Today is my stop on the blog tour for Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley.[Disclaimer: Please forgive me if this post isn’t fully coherent. I had two of my wisdom teeth removed a couple of days ago. I am still on medication and not fully back to functional.]
This is the third indigenous author I’ve ever read. I think it has more to do with a lack of indigenous authors than it does not seeking out their stories. I’ve become a loyal Rebecca Roanhorse reader over the years, and I will definitely be a loyal reader of Angeline Boulley’s books, because of the strong characters they build to tell their stories.
In Firekeeper’s Daughter, we are introduced to Daunis Fontaine, an eighteen-year-old mixed race (half white, half Ojibwe) young lady getting ready for her first semester of college. She is from a hockey town, well known amongst the die hard hockey fans, called Sault Ste. Marie in Michigan (it’s not Salt, it’s pronounced Soo). Her father, Levi Firekeeper, was a great hockey player until an accident ended his career. Both she and her brother (also Levi) are hockey players.
Her family’s past though is a little complicated. Her mother is from the richest white family in town. When she discovered she was pregnant, she went to tell Levi, only to catch him in the act of cheating. She ran off, he followed and got into the accident. Her parents sent her to stay with relatives in Montreal. When she returned with three-month-old Daunis, she discovered he was now married and had a son called Levi Jr.
Despite this unfortunate beginning for Daunis, her mother always made sure she had access to her Ojibwe family, no matter how much her GrandMary (grandmother) disagreed with it. Daunis grew up in two different worlds. One that was white and French, the other that was a part of the indigenous Ojibwe community.
I’m always a big supporter of stories featuring mixed race kids, because I am one myself. You’re always stuck between two worlds, and one side is usually unaccepting of the other side. You tend to be more assimilated into one culture than the other. But you’re always an outsider of both cultures, and never fully accepted, even though you do everything you can to be accepted.
Daunis here is in the same boat. She is a star hockey player, really smart, volunteers her time, a pillar in her community, and always looking out for her friends and family. She is literally a female warrior throughout this book, and that’s what made me love her character so much. They call this Anishinaabe kwe (Ojibwe woman).
When we enter Firekeeper’s Daughter, it is shortly after Daunis’s uncle dies from an overdose. Two months later, her GrandMary is hospitalized. Her mother takes off work to watch over her while she is in a long-term care facility, and Daunis decides to forego leaving home to attend college at University of Michigan so she can be closer to her family during this time. She decides to enroll in the local community college where her friend Lily will be attending, and then transfer to U of M the following year if everything gets better.
What Daunis doesn’t know is that her world is just starting to change.
It starts with a murder, then a suicide. Then she is roped into an FBI investigation where she is asked to become an informant to help them uncover where a strange strain of meth is coming from. All the FBI knows is that it has something to do with her small town, her community, and hockey. But how?
It is here that I would like to warn readers that there are content warnings for this book. Do not read if you are sensitive to any triggers, because to accurately tell the story of the Ojibwe people, the author had to talk about the things that happen in their community. It is not all fairy tales and happy endings…although, this one had a fantastic girl power ending.
Indigenous communities suffer from a higher rate of suicide among men than any other race in North America. They are plagued with substance abuse issues, drugs, and criminal activity. What broke my heart though is that this is a harsh wake up call for those who want to understand how people of color are treated in America, especially when a group of people face systemic racism and poverty. People are forced to do things that can destroy everything about the community they love, just for their own survival. And they don’t care who gets hurt along the way.
When I realized in the story who was behind the drugs, I kept thinking…no. Please, no. This will break Daunis’s heart. But if Boulley is going to accurately describe what was happening in her community, she needed to tell the truths that would hurt. But she helps the reader survive those heartbreaks by making Daunis a strong Ojibwe woman.
Daunis doesn’t let the evils of the world transform her or stop her from being her own true self. She builds strength by standing against the evils and standing with her community. When she stands with them, they stand with her. And that is a powerful message.
I highly recommend this book. It was a 21 Jump Street meets hockey in an Ojibwe community kind of story. It tells us about the horrors that Ojibwe women go through, as well as what their community is going through. Boulley wanted to remain as true as possible to their stories when she wrote this book. She enlightens the world with who the Ojibwe people are and how they are being destroyed, yet somehow she knows all too well they will survive together if they stick together.
For those hockey fans that still read what I write, this is a great YA novel to pick up. There’s enough hockey in this that will keep you intrigued. It will also remind you of the story of the Tootoo brothers (Inuit tribe). Both brothers were hockey players. One took his own life at the age of 22. The other went on to have a 13 year NHL career.