Book Review: This House is not a Home by Katłįà

I received an Advance Readers Copy of this book thanks to the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own. Publication date was September 1, 2022.

Kǫ̀ is a young boy, on the cusp of manhood, growing up in a remote northern community. Along with his community, he is learning to live off the land. To respect the living creatures they rely on to survive, to use every part of a caribou, and to survive in the intense cold of the North. He and his father travel by dogsled to hunt and their family has all they need. Until the day that strangers appear and take the children of the community, forcing them to integrate into residential schools where they are separated not only from their families but from their language and culture.

Eventually Kǫ̀ finishes school and is able to return to his mother. His father is gone and for many years Kǫ̀ is too afraid to ask what happened to him. Kǫ̀ also reunited with a young woman he met at school and together they start a family, living as closely as possible to the traditional ways that Kǫ̀ remembers.

But once more the foreigners force their way in, destroying the home that Kǫ̀ and his family live in and forcing them to live in a newly built one. Now they must pay for the upkeep of this shoddily built home and they suddenly have bills where they were once able to survive simply off the land. Kǫ̀ is forced to work at the local mine, an industry that is literally destroying the land he lives, and his children are drifting further and further away from their culture and history. Kǫ̀’s most powerful dream is to return to the sacred place where his wife was born and live there without interference but the more time passes the more impossible this dream seems.

This is a novel but it is unfortunately based on the true history of Indigenous people in Canada. Using one family and one man in particular, Katłįà drives home the ways in which settler policies and racism destroyed the long-held traditions and lives of the First Peoples. When Indigenous people today speak of Canada as being stolen land, this is exactly what they are talking about. While hopefully this history won’t be all new information to most Canadians (I think we are slowly doing a better job of education ourselves and our children about the genocide that was perpetrated in our nation), stories are a powerful way to teach and to remind us that this wasn’t a newly discovered land and many of us still benefit from the privilege of racist policies enacted more than a century ago.

I read Katłįà’s previous book, Land-Water-Sky/Ndè-Tı-Yat’, and while I enjoyed a lot of it, one of the aspects I struggled with was how much time it covered and how many characters it included. So I appreciated the narrower focus here and felt that, by keeping us with one man and his family, the story seemed more complete. It allowed us to really grow close to Kǫ̀ and understand his struggles and his desires. Through him we see the ways that his community is changing and the multi-generational effects the government policies have.

19 thoughts on “Book Review: This House is not a Home by Katłįà”

  1. Were you reading this book or writing the review around the time that the queen died? I know a lot of folks are bringing up how she represented colonialism and stealing land. It seems like people have fairly complicated feelings about it. I’m not sure how you guys in Canada feel because it’s so weird to me that you have a queen but you also have a Justin Trudeau. However, I also saw comments about how the queen wasn’t the one who participated in stealing children and land, that it was the church, which is not the same as the queen. Difficult stuff!

    1. Yes, I was, which was kind of interesting timing. “Complicated” is a good way to describe Canada and the Queen. She’s like our old grandma who we love in many ways but we know some of her behaviour isn’t ok but you excuse because she’s from a different time. She’s very much a figurehead and has no real power here and were the monarchy to try to control Canada in any way I think we’d cut ties very quickly. At the same time, she represents a powerful institution and had a lot of power and if she’d wanted to change things she maybe could have. But I have no idea how aware she was of things like residential schools when they were occurring. She was also technically the head of the Church of England (the Anglican Church here in Canada) which did have some schools so that doesn’t absolve her either. I’m not against the monarchy and I like being part of the Commonwealth but then you see the incredible wealth it holds and I wish that money was being used in other ways.

    2. I heard recently that getting rid of the royal family would be a terrible idea because their presence brings in loads of money to the economy thanks to tourism. They also do a lot of charity work, I’m told.

    3. So just a circular object on a circular object??

      Also, a fun fact Canadians like to share is that hockey is not our official national sport!

  2. Sounds like yet another great read by an Indigenous author, which will hopefully translate into more awareness! This idea of focusing on stolen land is good one too – it wasn’t just the residential schools that destroyed their culture, it was forcing off of their land too.

    1. It reminded me a little bit of Five Little Indians. Another one of those important stories that needs to be read by Canadians to understand our own country’s history. I grew up hearing about European immigrants (including my own great-grandparents) settling the “free land” in Canada and it took me years to realize that that land was actually already in use.

    2. Yes, my kids know way more than I did at their ages and I’ve been impressed with how their school has presented history in age appropriate ways.

    1. It has a very hopeful ending! But it is very bleak throughout much of it. What made it not overwhelming though were the solid relationships throughout and the way family continued to be emphasised, even as outside forces worked against them.

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