As Daunis’s Sugar Island Ojibwe community weathers various painful incidents, including drug-related deaths, murder, and sexual assault, Daunis becomes increasingly disillusioned with the formal and legal options that ostensibly seek to offer justice and healing. Instead, Daunis discovers time and again that her cultural traditions and ceremonies, though they’re not usually legally meaningful (in the federal government’s eyes), offer her and her peers catharsis, comfort, and ways to feel pride in their identities and traditions. For instance, Daunis remains intrigued throughout the novel by blanket parties—nighttime outings where a sexual assault victim’s female family members kidnap the victim’s aggressor and beat him in the woods. A blanket party doesn’t force the man to pay monetarily for his crimes, but it does allow women to reclaim power and control over their bodies. And in some situations, as when wealthy and white Grand Edwards rapes Daunis, the novel implies that participating in a blanket party and other ceremonies for sexual assault victims is the only way a Native woman can get any sort of justice, due to how tribal and federal laws make it extremely difficult to prosecute white men who commit crimes on tribal land.
Daunis also describes how various other ceremonies and events, such as attending funerals, dancing at powwow, and offering semaa (tobacco) with her prayers offer people a chance to grieve, heal, and take pride in their identities as Indigenous people. Traditional ceremonies like funerals, Daunis comes to understand, offer a comforting framework for both the deceased and those still living to process trauma—it helps Daunis feel better, for instance, to know what Lily’s spirit is doing on the four days after her death. And though Daunis insists that powwows aren’t ceremonies, Daunis still finds that dancing at the powwow at the end of the novel—the first time she’s danced in a year and a half, as part of her mourning process for Lily and her Uncle David—is restorative. What’s more, dancing makes her feel prouder of who she is and where she comes from than almost anything else she does over the course of the novel. In this way, Firekeeper’s Daughter shows that ceremonies and traditions provide Native communities the healing and justice that the formal government justice system has systemically and historically denied them.
Ceremony, Pride, and Healing ThemeTracker
Ceremony, Pride, and Healing Quotes in Firekeeper’s Daughter
Maybe it isn’t about helping the FBI, but about protecting my community. Can I do one without the other? If I don’t sign on, they will find someone else to be their confidential informant.
Jamie is right—I know science and Ojibwe culture. I also know that I am strong enough to do this. There is one more thing I know…My definition of being a good Secret Squirrel is not the same as theirs.
Maybe there isn’t one investigation taking place, but two.
Theirs. And mine.
I sign the agreement.
“The FBI had been investigating meth activity. The incident in Minnesota was unusual enough for the FBI to look into the different substances being added during production.”
“Do you know how the kids are doing now?” I hope their community has good resources to help them.
When Jamie admits he doesn’t know, it reinforces how different we are. The FBI is interested in learning what caused the group hallucination. I want to know if the kids are okay.
I have wanted this ever since I understood that being Anishinaabe and being an enrolled citizen weren’t necessarily the same thing.
My mind races, remembering Granny’s unsuccessful efforts to get this for Lily.
I can become a member. Except…It changes nothing about me.
I am Anishinaabe. Since my first breath. […]
My whole life, I’ve been seeking validation of my identity from others. Now that it’s within my reach, I realize I don’t need it.
“Miigwech.” I take a deep breath. “But I don’t need a card to define me.”
“I know you don’t, Daunis. But think about,” Auntie says. “This is a gift from your dad.”
Granny says, “Your decision isn’t just about you. It’s for your children. Grandchildren.”
“Hold on. When you say ‘we,’ you don’t mean you and me. You mean the FBI,” I say, mouthing the initials while pretending to rub my nose so no one can read my lips. “Jamie, don’t you remember what my aunt told us about making some workers stay late to fix the owl T-shirts? They learned about the problem and had ownership in the solution? We have to fix it. The community, not the”—my hand hides my mouth from the room again—“FBI.”
I am overcome with deep gratitude as I sit here next to Auntie before the fire. Auntie has shown me how to be a strong Nish kwe—full of love, anger, humor, sorrow, and joy. Not as something perfect: She is a woman who is complex and sometimes exhausted, but mostly brave. She loves imperfect people fiercely.
Hockey brings my community together. Native and non-Native. All ages. All neighborhoods. Here in Chi Mukwa, a community recreation building funded by the Sugar Island Ojibwe Tribe, everyone stands united for our teams. I just hope they remember today was for Robin Bailey.
What if I ask for something I shouldn’t? I could be a bird asking Creator for love, only to be so enamored of my new mate that I fly into a clean window and break my neck.
Everything has strings attached. Unintended consequences. The shove from behind that you never saw coming.
Flakes of semaa flutter from my trembling hand.
My prayer ends with a confession: I’m scared.
I thought I had no resources on the ferry, except for one lone Elder. But one led to another, and another. A resource I never anticipated during my time of dire need.
I’m reminded that our Elders are our greatest resource, embodying our culture and community. Their stories connect us to our language medicines, land, clans, songs, and traditions. They are a bridge between the Before and the Now, guiding those of us who will carry on in the Future.
We honor our heritage and our people, those who are alive and those who’ve passed on. That’s important because it keeps the ones we lose with us. My grandparents. Uncle David. Lily. Dad.
He cries. I don’t soothe him. He needs to feel this, and I need to hear it. Investigations involve real people. Informants face real risks. Developing real feelings for me doesn’t wash away that he was willing to use me, a girl he didn’t know, to pursue a case and get a career boost.
Powwows are not ceremonies, and yet there is something restorative about the gathering of our community. The collective spirit of our tribal nation coming together, sharing songs and fellowship with others. It’s our annual powwow, the third weekend in August, and my community needs healing now more than ever.
As my aunt tells the story, a large basket is passed around the inner circle. I take a yellow pansy and pass the basket to Auntie. I watch as women approach the fire, each one offering a pansy.
As I release the pansy, I think about what Grant Edwards did to me and say my silent prayer. There is comfort in watching the smoke rise to the full moon.
When I return to my seat, Granny June holds my hand.
“Liliban was thankful each year that you weren’t here,” she says.
“Wait. She was here?” My heart breaks.
“Yes, my girl. Ever since she came to live with me.”
I cry for my best friend and the secrets she wanted to protect me from.
I am overcome with a mixture of emotions. Sad that their innocent eyes are open to the trauma that still impacts our community today. Angry they must learn these truths in order to be strong Anishinaabeg in a world where Indians are thought of only in the past tense. Proud that they—smart, sturdy, and loved—are the greatest wish our ancestors had, for our nation to survive and flourish.