katherena vermette (she/her/hers) is a Red River Métis (Michif) writer from Treaty 1 territory, the heart of the Métis Nation, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.
Born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, her Michif roots on her paternal side run deep in St. Boniface, St. Norbert and beyond. Her maternal side is Mennonite from the Altona and Rosenfeld area (Treaty 1).
In 2013, her first book, North End Love Songs (Muses’ Company) won the Governor General’s Literary Award for Poetry. Since then, her work has garnered awards and critical accolades across genres. Her novels The Break (House of Anansi) and The Strangers (Hamish Hamilton) were both national best sellers and won multiple literary awards.
Her third novel, The Circle (Hamish Hamilton), and a new and revised omnibus edition of her graphic novel series, A Girl Called Echo (Highwater) will be released Fall 2023.
She holds a Master of Fine Arts from the University of British Columbia, and an honourary Doctor of Letters from the University of Manitoba.
katherena lives with her family in a cranky old house within skipping distance of the temperamental Red River.
*photo credit – Vanda Fleury
From the bestselling author of The Break comes a staggering intergenerational saga that explores how connected we are, even when we’re no longer together—even when we’re forced apart.
Cedar has nearly forgotten what her family looks like. Phoenix has nearly forgotten what freedom feels like. And Elsie has nearly given up hope. Nearly.
After time spent in foster homes, Cedar goes to live with her estranged father. Although she grapples with the pain of being separated from her mother, Elsie, and sister, Phoenix, she’s hoping for a new chapter in her life, only to find herself once again in a strange house surrounded by strangers. From a youth detention centre, Phoenix gives birth to a baby she’ll never get to raise and tries to forgive herself for all the harm she’s caused (while wondering if she even should). Elsie, struggling with addiction and determined to turn her life around, is buoyed by the idea of being reunited with her daughters and strives to be someone they can depend on, unlike her own distant mother. These are the Strangers, each haunted in her own way. Between flickering moments of warmth and support, the women diverge and reconnect, fighting to survive in a fractured system that pretends to offer success but expects them to fail. Facing the distinct blade of racism from those they trusted most, they urge one another to move through the darkness, all the while wondering if they’ll ever emerge safely on the other side.
A breathtaking companion to her bestselling debut The Break, Vermette’s The Strangers brings readers into the dynamic world of the Stranger family, the strength of their bond, the shared pain in their past, and the light that beckons from the horizon. This is a searing exploration of race, class, inherited trauma, and matrilineal bonds that—despite everything—refuse to be broken.
Vol. 4, A Girl Called Echo
Road Allowance Era
Published in 04/27/2021 by Portage & Main Press
Illustrated by Scott B. Henderson
Colour by Donovan Yaciuk
The Manitoba Act’s promise of land for the Métis has gone unfulfilled, and many Métis flee to the Northwest. As part of the fallout from the Northwest Resistance, their advocate and champion Louis Riel is executed. As new legislation corrodes Métis land rights, and unscrupulous land speculators and swindlers take advantage, many Métis begin to settle on road allowances and railway land, often on the fringes of urban centres.
For Echo, the plight of her family is apparent. Burnt out of their home in Ste. Madeleine when their land is cleared for pasture, they make their way to Rooster Town, squatting on the southwest edges of Winnipeg. In this final instalment of Echo’s story, she is reminded of the strength and resilience of her people, forged through the loss and pain of the past, as she faces a triumphant future.
Check Out the Entire Series
Published in 09/25/2018 by House of Anansi
Featured as Heather’s Pick at Indigo
Governor General’s Award–winning Métis poet and acclaimed novelist Katherena Vermette’s second work of poetry, river woman, examines and celebrates love as postcolonial action. Here love is defined as a force of reclamation and repair in times of trauma, and trauma is understood to exist within all times. The poems are grounded in what feels like an eternal present, documenting moments of clarity that lift the speaker (and reader) out of our preconceptions of historical time, while never losing a connection to history. This is what we mean when we describe a work of art as being “timeless.”
Like the river they speak to, these poems return again and again to the same source in search of new ways to reconstruct what has been lost. Vermette suggests that it’s through language and the body ― particularly through language as it lives inside the body ― that a fragmented self might resurface as once again whole. This idea of breaking apart and coming back together is woven throughout the collection as the speaker revels in the physical pleasures of learning Anishnaabemowin (“the language / I should have already known”), as she contemplates the ongoing negotiation between the natural world and urban structures, and as she finds herself falling into trust with the ones she loves.
Divided into four sections, and written in her distinctively lean and elegantly spare style, where short lines belie the depth within them, river woman explores Vermette’s relationship to nature ― its destructive power and beauty, its timelessness, and its place in human history. Here is a poet who is a keen observer of an environment that is both familiar and otherworldly, where her home is alive with the sounds and smells of the land it grows out of, where “Words / transcend ceremony / into everyday” and “Nothing / is inanimate.”
Released in 2016 through The National Film Board of Canada
Runtime 19 min.
Winner of the Canadian Screen Award for Best Short
This short documentary offers an Indigenous perspective on the devastating experience of searching for a loved one who has disappeared. Volunteer activist Kyle Kematch and award-winning writer Katherena Vermette have both survived this heartbreak, and share their histories with each other and the audience. While their stories are different, they both exemplify the beauty, grace, resilience, and activism born out of the need to do something.
North End Love Songs
Released in 03/12/2012 by The Muses’ Company
Winner of the 2013 Governor General’s Literary Award for Poetry and the Lina Chartrand Award for Activism in Poetry
For Katherena Vermette, Winnipeg’s North End is a neighbourhood of colourful birds, stately elms, and always wily rivers. It is where a brother’s disappearance is trivialized by local media and police because he is young and aboriginal. It is also where young girls share secrets, movies, cigarettes, Big Gulps and stories of love — where a young mother full of both maternal trepidation and joy watches her small daughters as they play in the park.
In spare, minimalist language, North End Love Songs attends to the demands of Indigenous and European poetics, braiding an elegant journey that takes us from Winnipeg’s North End out into the world. We enter the undocumented lives of its citizens and celebrate them through Katherena Vermette’s beautiful poems.
The Toronto Quarterly Literary & Arts Journal | The Walrus
North End Love Songs is a debut collection from an emerging Winnipeg poet, a book that combines elegiac and fiercely ecstatic melodies to sing of a complicated love for a city, a river, and a neighbourhood. It is deep rooted in its location, yet will reach out to readers everywhere with its harsh and beautiful tunings of growing up female in Winnipeg’s North End.
Published in 09/16/2016 by House of Anansi
Winner of the Amazon.ca First Novel Award, Burt Award for First Nation, Inuit and Metis Literature, Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award, Margaret Laurence Award for Fiction, McNally Robinson Book of the Year Award
When Stella, a young Métis mother, looks out her window one evening and spots someone in trouble on the Break — a barren field on an isolated strip of land outside her house — she calls the police to alert them to a possible crime.
In a series of shifting narratives, people who are connected, both directly and indirectly, with the victim — police, family, and friends — tell their personal stories leading up to that fateful night. Lou, a social worker, grapples with the departure of her live-in boyfriend. Cheryl, an artist, mourns the premature death of her sister Rain. Paulina, a single mother, struggles to trust her new partner. Phoenix, a homeless teenager, is released from a youth detention centre. Officer Scott, a Métis policeman, feels caught between two worlds as he patrols the city. Through their various perspectives a larger, more comprehensive story about lives of the residents in Winnipeg’s North End is exposed.
A powerful intergenerational family saga, The Break showcases Vermette’s abundant writing talent and positions her as an exciting new voice in Canadian literature.
The Girl and the Wolf
Released in 02/05/2019 by Theytus Books Ltd.
Pictures by Julie Flett
Named one of Kirkus Review’s Best Book of 2019
While picking berries with her mother, a little girl wanders too far into the woods. When she realizes she is lost, she begins to panic. A large grey wolf makes a sudden appearance between some distant trees. Using his sense of smell, he determines where she came from and decides to help her. Through a series of questions from the wolf, the little girl realizes she had the knowledge and skill to navigate herself—she just needed to remember that those abilities were there all along.
The Girl and The Wolf is an absolute masterwork by both best-selling author Katherena Vermette and master artist Julie Flett because it reminds us we are more powerful than we realize in times of panic, and, at the same time, it places the responsibility of survival on ourselves. It also reminds us that there are helpers to get you home in forms you may not recognize at first: a wolf with meat on its breath or birds who remember your way home. I love this book and I think about it every day.
What is Truth, Betsy?
A Story of Truth
Published in 03/16/2016 by Portage & Main Press
The Seven Teachings series mentioned in the SOLS First Nations Communities READ Recommended Titles, Selected for CCBC’s Best Books for Kids & Teens
Miskwaadesi is puzzled about the teaching Truth. But she knows more than she thinks she does.
What is Truth, Betsy? is one book in The Seven Teachings Stories series. The Seven Teachings of the Anishinaabe—love, wisdom, humility, courage, respect, honesty, and truth—are revealed in seven stories for children. Set in urban landscapes, Indigenous children tell familiar stories about home, school, and community.
Katherena Vermette’s The Seven Teachings Stories are joyous, vivid, and have an irresistible cadence. But the stories have something more. Rich in culture and traditional knowledge, Katherena’s series addresses important topics—such as the residential school system — with the very teachings the series embodies: love, respect, courage, honesty, wisdom, humility, and truth.