Monday, May 03, 2021

Highly Recommended! FIREKEEPER'S DAUGHTER by Angeline Boulley

Firekeeper's Daughter
Written by Angeline Boulley (Enrolled member of the 
Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians)
Cover art by Moses Lunham (Ojibway)
Published in 2021
Publisher: Henry Holt (Macmillan)
Review Status: Highly Recommended
Reviewer: Debbie Reese (Nambé Owingeh)


For months, now, people have been talking about Angeline Boulley's debut, Firekeeper's Daughter. When the cover art by Moses Lunham (Ojibway) was released, people talked about that. When Netflix announced it would be made into a film by the Obama's production company, Higher Ground Productions, there was a growing chorus of voices. And then there was even more, when it appeared on the New York times bestseller list! 

It's popularity is evident in the wait time at my local library. If I wanted to get an audio copy, I'd have one in 290 days; if I wanted the eBook I'd get it in 276 days. Of course, I had a personal e-copy, so won't be adding my name to the request list at the library.

I was elated to see the review from Publishers Weekly. It used the words "tribally specific." I think that is another "first" for Native writers. We've seen a few "firsts" recently. One is Carole Lindstrom and Michaela Goade's We Are Water Protectors winning the Caldecott Medal, and another is seeing their book and a new one--I Sang You Down from the Stars by Tasha Spillett-Sumner, illustrated by Michaela Goade--on the best selling picture book list at the New York Times, at the same time! Boulley's book was over on the young adult list!

When I read the phrase "half brother" in a review from one of the major review journals, I paused. Half brother? I didn't remember seeing that phrase. Was it in the book? The answer is no. Boulley did not use that phrase to describe Daunis's brother. He was, simply, her brother. Levi and Daunis have different mothers but for Boulley, that doesn't matter. I think it hints at the difference between a white point of view and a Native one, about family and the words used to describe family members.  

I'm thrilled that people like Boulley's novel. What it is doing in the world is important for everyone. People who aren't Ojibwe are getting an insider's perspective on Ojibwe life and people; Ojibwe readers are getting something they recognize. Take a listen to Red Hoop Talk, episode 48. When it starts, they bring up a map that shows Sugar Island, which figures prominently in Firekeeper's Daughter. 

Listening, I especially like that Boulley characterizes her book as a love letter to Anishinabe girls. When Boulley and Colleen Medicine (one of the hosts on the show; she's Ojibwe) talk about the ferry to Sugar Island and how it feels to be on Sugar Island, I think of going into, and being at similar places at Nambé--how liberating they are to us, as Native people of those places. Boulley talking about the audio makes me want to go right out and order it! 

Photo credit: Amber Boulley

She talked, too, about the team at Macmillan that works with her, and that found Moses Lunham. In August of 2020, Anishinabek News did an article about him doing the cover. Here's a paragraph:
Since the Woodland style is a story-telling art form, Lunham says it is well-suited to book covers. The images on the cover originate from the fire and the smoke that rises from it, he explains. With the protagonist’s last name being Firekeeper, it made perfect sense to start with a Sacred Fire, Lunham says.  From out of smoke come the bear, Daunis’ clan dodem, and the raven, the message-bearer who plays an important role in leading her “in the right direction,” the artist adds. The two animals “morph” into the butterfly, the main image and a symbol Lunham wanted to include as representing the young Daunis leaving childhood and emerging into adult life.
As I follow reactions to the book, I see that Native people talk about Native community in Firekeeper's Daughter. They see things that resonate with them. In particular, Native readers are talking about the women, especially the elders, in the book. I sure did! Reading the words of these Ojibwe women made me laugh and wince, too, as I heard echos of home (Nambé). Like the name Granny June gives to her dog! I laughed really hard at that part. And the elders using technology? That was awesome and made me think of my mom with her iPad!  

Though the novel is Ojibwe from start to finish, there are many places at which I nodded because they are so familiar. HUD houses. And the passages about tribal politics! I like that a lot. I hope non-Native readers hit a pause button when they read about tribal politics in Daunis's community, and that they learn about tribal governments. Native governments are rarely taught in schools, but Native kids know about them and non-Native kids should, too! Most tribal nations have websites with links to their page about their government. Here's the one for Boulley's tribe: Government (Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians

I like the ways that Boulley raises stereotypical thinking and then immediately bats them down. I won't elaborate. See for yourself.

I'll close with a link to another terrific moment. As far as I am able to determine, the National Congress of American Indians has not had an event that featured a children's or adult book, but they did it with Firekeeper's Daughter. Moreover, it included a spectacular team of Native women:

That image is a screen cap from Louise Erdrich's (Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians) public Facebook page. In the foreground (on the laptop) is Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo) and in the background is Erdrich. The NCAI event included Haaland, Erdrich, NCAI President Fawn Sharp (Quinault), and Representative Sharice Davids (Ho-Chunk). Here's a screen capture from the 13:40 mark of the event, when Davids talked about reading Boulley's book:

In his introduction, Representative Dan Kildee noted that Davids has a children's book in the works, too! Illustrated by Joshua M. Pawis-Steckley (Ojibwe) is due out on June 1, so keep an eye out for it and register for the launch:

Make time to watch the entire NCAI event. One of the topics Boulley and Erdrich discussed is about DNA, DNA testing, and enrollment. Erdrich told Boulley she was glad to see that part of the book. I wonder how that part is landing with people who think they're Native, and then provide their DNA to a company, thinking that is all it takes to be able to say they're Native?   

Watch the video. Spend some time on Angeline Boulley's website. And of course, get a copy of the book.Visit your library and ask them for it. 

One last note:  In her author's note, when Boulley names a Native person, she includes their tribal nation. This book is tribally specific, through and through. 


1 comment:

Charlotte Griffin said...

I managed to get on the library list for Firekeeper's Daughter fairly early, and I finished reading it last week. It's a wonderful book, and I'm planning to see if I can stir up some interest in it in our high school English department.

Charlotte Griffin
middle school history teacher