As a social worker, Sudbury’s Annette Vermette worked for years in northern communities. Many of her clients were Indigenous women who were “wrapped up in the judicial system in Northern Ontario, where legal services are sparse.”
According to up-to-date information from Statistics Canada, 31 per cent of inmates identify as Indigenous. The proportion of Indigenous women in the prison population reached 50 per cent for the first time in 2022.
General population statistics in the 2021 Census counted 1.8 million Indigenous people, accounting for five per cent of the total population in Canada, showing the vast overrepresentation of Indigenous people in the prison system.
“It's a topic that really nobody wants to talk about,” said Vermette, who said she is Métis herself.
Although she’s now changed careers, working in the post-secondary sector in Sudbury, Vermette used her past working experiences as the inspiration for a young adult novel.
The self-published novel, entitled Dragonfly, is available for purchase online through Amazon. Vermette will also be holding a book launch at the Valley East Public Library at 10:30 a.m. on June 3.
In the book, 27-year-old Maya has been released from prison for the third time since she was 17, and this time she knows things have got to change.
From her family cabin in the woods of Northern Ontario, she starts to process and heal from past wounds.
For the first time in her life, she becomes aware of the systemic injustices that led to the criminalization and imprisonment of Indigenous women like herself, and to know that she is not alone is at once comforting and deeply troubling.
She is introduced to community members who assist her on her healing journey; she takes an interest in her cousin’s legal woes, but in the wake of so much trauma, Maya becomes fearful.
Curious rustlings play at the edges of her consciousness, and she can’t shake the feeling
that she is being watched, that helping other women may come at a price.
“So this book is geared to young women, maybe between the ages of 13 and 18,” Vermette said. “I just wanted to exemplify a better life, or maybe some coping skills or initiating something in their life. So that's why Dragonfly was written, was to take this really horrible concept and make it into something realistic.”
Vermette said she has been writing for years, and has “a slew of half-finished books I’m sorting through, one by one.” Her novel “Dragonfly” is the first book she’s actually published.
She said she also has a second book in the works, called Overrepresented, which is a non-fiction look at the issue of the overrepresentation of women in the Canadian prison system.
Heidi Ulrichsen is Sudbury.com’s associate content editor. She also covers education and the arts scene.