katherena vermette (she/her/hers) is a Michif writer from Treaty 1 territory, Winnipeg,
photo credit – Vanda Fleury
photo credit – Vanda Fleury
katherena vermette (she/her/hers) is a Michif (Red River Métis) writer from Treaty 1 territory, the heart of the Métis Nation, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.
Born in Winnipeg, 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 and The Circle (Hamish Hamilton) were all national best sellers and won multiple literary awards.
Her fourth novel, real ones (Hamish Hamilton) will be released in fall 2024. Vermette’s work for children and young adults includes the picture book, The Girl and The Wolf (Theytus 2018), and graphic novels, A Girl Called Echo, Vol. 1 – 4 (Highwater) – a special omnibus edition of the series was released in 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 kids – fur and human – in a cranky old house within skipping distance of the temperamental Red River.
*photo credit – Vanda Fleury
“The Circle is a polyphonic masterpiece.” —Erika T. Wurth, author of White Horse
From the award-winning and #1 bestselling author of The Break and The Strangers comes a poignant and unwavering epic told from a constellation of Métis voices that consider the fallout when the person who connects them all goes missing.
The concept was simple. You sit a bunch of people in a circle—everyone who hurt, everyone who got hurt, all affected—and let them share. Some people, it helped them heal, for sure. Others went in angry and left a different kind of angry. Learned how the blame belonged on the system, the history, the colonizer, the big things that were harder to change than one bad person.
The day that Cedar Sage Stranger has been both dreading and longing for has finally come: her sister Phoenix is getting out of prison.
The effect of Phoenix’s release cascades through the community. M, the young girl whom she assaulted, is triggered by the news. Her mother, Paulina, is worried and her cousin is angry—all feel the threat of Phoenix’s release. When Phoenix is seen lingering outside the school to catch a glimpse of her son, Sparrow, the police get a call to file a report—but the next thing they know, she has disappeared.
Amid accusations and plots for revenge, past grievances become a poor guide in a moment of danger, and the clumsy armature of law enforcement is no match for the community. Cedar and her and Phoenix’s mother, Elsie, continue down different paths of healing, while everyone in their lives form a circle around the chaos, the calm within the storm, and the beauty in the darkness.
Fierce, heartbreaking, and profound, Vermette’s The Circle is the third and final companion novel to her bestsellers The Break and The Strangers. Told from various perspectives, with an unforgettable voice for each chapter, the novel is masterfully structured as a Restorative Justice Circle where all gather—both the victimized and the accused—to take account of a crime that has altered the course of their lives. It considers what it means to be abandoned by the very systems that claim to offer support, how it feels to gain a sense of belonging, and the unanticipated cost of protecting those you love most.
Experience Echo’s entire time-travelling adventure in this omnibus of Katherena Vermette’s best-selling series.
Métis teenager Echo Desjardins is struggling to adjust to a new school and a new home. When an ordinary history class turns extraordinary, Echo is pulled into a time-travelling adventure. Follow Echo as she experiences pivotal events from Métis history and imagines what the future might hold. This omnibus edition includes all four volumes in the A Girl Called Echo series:In Pemmican Wars, Echo finds herself transported to the prairies of 1814. She witnesses a bison hunt, visits a Métis camp, and travels the fur-trade routes. Experience the perilous era of the Pemmican Wars and the events that lead to the Battle of Seven Oaks.In Red River Resistance, we join Echo on the banks of the Red River in the summer of 1869. Canadian surveyors have arrived and Métis families, who have lived there for generations, are losing their land. As the Resistance takes hold, Echo fears for the future of her people in Red River.In Northwest Resistance, Echo travels to 1885. The bison are gone and settlers from the East are arriving in droves. The Métis face starvation and uncertainty as both their survival and traditional way of life are threatened. The Canadian government has ignored their petitions, but hope rises with the return of Louis Riel.In Road Allowance Era, Echo returns to 1885. Louis Riel is standing trial, and the government has not fulfilled its promise of land for the Métis. Burnt out of their home in Ste. Madeleine, Echo’s people make their way to Rooster Town, a shanty community on the southwest edges of Winnipeg. In this final instalment, Echo is reminded of the strength and perseverance of the Métis.This special omnibus edition of Katherena Vermette’s best-selling series features an all-new foreword by Chantal Fiola (Returning to Ceremony: Spirituality in Manitoba Métis Communities), a historical timeline, and an essay about Métis being and belonging by Brenda Macdougall (Contours of a People: Métis Family, Mobility, and History).
The A Girl Called Echo series represents a powerful re-storying of Métis history and offers an important resource for educators to bring learning to life in their classrooms. katherena vermette’s intentional writing and lovingly crafted world seamlessly blend timelines and remind readers that generational love and cultural strength echo through the past and present, and into the future. This collection is a gift.
Dr. Tasha Spillett, New York Times bestselling author
After the TRC, how do we invite rethinking of the rich story of the Métis in Canada for Métis youth in relationship to their kin—past and present, and to other citizens in this country? We tell an engaging, inclusive, and relatable story of family, love, and resistance that spans time, a story that is both truthful and hopeful for the future. Narrated by a contemporary Métis teenager, Governor General’s Award–winning author katherena vermette’s A Girl Called Echo is a re-righting of Canada’s relationship with the Métis on this land. Depicted in brilliant illustrations by Scott Henderson and colourist Donovan Yaciuk, its themes of relationality to land, to kinship, and to being and belonging will echo long after you have set it down. A Girl Called Echo offers a template for the transformative Canadian history that must be taught in all our K–12 public schools and post-secondary settings across this country. A story of the people on this land that we now know as Canada includes Métis stories tightly woven into its fabric.
Rita Bouvier, former Indspire Education Laureate and author of a beautiful rebellion
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.