In her own moccasins: Author Helen Knott explores pain, healing and resilience in debut novel
Knott discusses with CBC the moment she decided to stop begging people to see her humanity
Fort St. John, B.C., author and activist Helen Knott has spoken in front of the United Nations, been selected for the RBC Taylor Prize Emerging Writers mentorship program, and is now receiving critical acclaim for her debut novel In My Own Moccasins, which examines the pain that comes from addiction, intergenerational trauma and sexual violence, as well as her own path to healing.
Knott spoke with Daybreak North's Andrew Kurjata before the launch of her new book.
You've made appearances across North America. What keeps you coming home to Fort St. John?
This place that I live is the land that knows me and knows me by my name. So it's home and it's inescapable, and then I think about even just in terms of art in the North, and being successful in your craft, but being able to stay within the North, I think that's important as well.
This book is a memoir and it delves into some very dark stories of your time growing up in Fort St. John, and Prince George for a period. Why did you want to share this?
I went back and forth and had to do a lot of grounding even prior to the release. But it was always focused on knowing that I've sat with with women, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, from across the country who have dealt with sexual violence and or different traumas, and have had those stories and have never told anyone. And for me, it was a way of creating some room for them so that they can also see themselves reflected in these spaces. So it was about healing.
You said you used to do this, but you no longer want to beg for people to see your humanity. What do you mean by that?
I can remember there was a specific event. I was going to school and working part-time and there was this moment, this window of 30 minutes, when my brother was going to be watching my child and he ended up falling asleep. My child, he could Houdini out of anything. But he ended up being outside and we lived on a street where we were the only Indigenous folks on the block, and when my son ended up escaping they called the police, and I was so terrified of losing my child.
I remember walking across the street later that day to go and explain to these people that I was a mom who was sober, who was working — there was just this crazy mishap — because I had always felt, I guess, unsaid judgments. And I remember walking away from their living room, the tears down my face, and feeling this sense of shame for having essentially begged someone to see me [as] other than what I felt like they see me as, which was an Indigenous mom who didn't take care of their children. And after that moment I was, like, I'm never doing this again.
Where did that strength come from to move beyond that and start writing and living for yourself?
I think it was a turning point. Really pulling on this place of, I want to live, and coming from that space of rock bottom and working toward that healing. Someone early on said, in order to find your purpose, look at the generations before you and what was left at the end. So, I was looking. I was like, I know the majority of people in my family have achieved sobriety. I know this, and this has happened, but some people are still carrying on hurt. And so for me, my goal became healing. I think I was put here to heal to the best of my ability and so that has really driven me in my life.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
With files from Daybreak North