Firekeeper’s Daughter is, at its heart, 18-year-old Daunis’s coming-of-age story. Over the course of the novel, she matures from a naïve (though also quick and incisive) teenager into a young woman who knows what she wants—as well as her limitations. The novel ties Daunis’s coming of age to the experience she gains throughout the few months that federal agents Ron and Jamie spend in the Sault conducting an undercover operation into a suspected meth cell, an experience that shows Daunis that growing up and gaining knowledge can be both painful and fulfilling. Daunis begins the novel desperate to be included in adult traditions such as blanket parties (a practice in which women beat men who have assaulted tribal members), something her Auntie Teddie sees as indicative of Daunis’s naivete. Auntie implies that Daunis doesn’t understand the true significance of a blanket party because she’s too focused on how appealing it is to be able to beat a man who has wronged one of Daunis’s peers. It’s not until Daunis learns that Grant Edwards, a wealthy white man who raped her on tribal land, won’t be prosecuted in federal court for his crime that Daunis understands that the blanket party is really an imperfect solution to various horrific problems facing Native women. But it’s only after Daunis’s horrific assault forces her to grow up before she’s ready to do that she fully understands that to be adult, female, and Ojibwe is to be extremely vulnerable.
Part of growing up, Daunis also finds, is being willing to accept uncomfortable truths, especially about people she loves. When she discovers that her half-brother Levi is running the meth cell in the Sault, Daunis is heartbroken. But she also realizes that the adult thing to do is to not allow herself to explain away Levi’s behavior and the incriminating trail of evidence she finds—some of which he plants to frame her. The novel frames Daunis’s mature response to her white grandmother GrandMary’s death as another symptom of Daunis’s burgeoning maturity. When GrandMary dies at the end of the novel, Daunis feels at peace with two truths: that GrandMary was notoriously bigoted toward Native people—and yet adored her Native granddaughter. Being an adult, Daunis discovers, means becoming comfortable with discomfort and with moral ambiguity, particularly when it comes to one’s relationship with family members.
Coming of Age ThemeTracker
Coming of Age Quotes in Firekeeper’s Daughter
My Zhaaganaash and Anishinaabe grandmothers could not have been more different. […] Their push and pull on me has been a tug-of-war my entire life.
When I was seven, I spent a weekend at Gramma Pearl’s tar-paper house on Sugar Island. I woke up crying with an earache […]. She had me pee in a cup, and poured it into my ear as I rested my head in her lap. Back home for Sunday dinner at GrandMary and Grandpa Lorenzo’s, I excitedly shared how smart my grandmother was. Gramma Pearl fixed my earache with my pee! GrandMary recoiled and, a heartbeat later, glared at my mother as if this was her fault. Something split inside me when I saw my mother’s embarrassment. I learned there were times when I was expected to be a Fontaine and other times when it was safe to be a Firekeeper.
Pausing in the doorway, I watch Mom massaging lotion on her mother’s toothpick legs. She exhausts herself looking after GrandMary, who wasn’t always kind to her.
What if it’s a strength to love and care for someone you don’t always like?
Mom was adamant that Uncle David hadn’t relapsed. I know now that he didn’t, but even if he had, she would have continued to love and support him.
What if my mother is actually a strong person disguised as someone fragile?
“She used to be Heather Swanson,” I say. “Everyone knew her dad was Joey Nodin, but he denied it. Supposedly he threatened Heather’s mom when she asked for child support. But once the casino opened and the Tribe started paying per cap, Joey claimed paternity and enrolled Heather in the Tribe. People say Joey paid her mom’s shady boyfriend to set her up for a drug bust so she would lose custody. The custodial parent gets the kid’s minor money.”
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.”
Each tribe has the sovereign right to determine who is a member. My best friend couldn’t get enrolled because of the way the Sugar Island Ojibwe Tribe’s enrollment office calculated Indian blood quantum: fractions of Indian blood based on lineage. Granny June’s first husband was from a First Nations band in Canada, so Lily’s pedigree didn’t meet the standard. Too many ancestors from across the river, not the right kind of Indian blood. Granny filed an appeal with Tribal Council, telling them, No one told me I wasn’t supposed to snag on that side of the river. We were here before that border existed. Every one of yous got cousins over there. But Council rejected her appeal for Lily’s membership application.
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.
When Lily told Travis that she was done for good, he pulled out a gun. Love is not control. If he had truly loved Lily, he would have wanted her to have a good life. Even if it wasn’t with him. Instead, he did the opposite of love. Travis steadied the gun in his hand and thought only of himself.
Somehow, Travis had come across a love medicine. The kind of bad medicine that Auntie warned me against asking too much about.
When Lily refused to try the love medicine, Travis must have added it to a batch of meth […]. What he thought was a love medicine was actually the opposite of love. Real love honors your spirit. If you need a medicine to create or keep it, that’s possession and control. Not love.
A couple of weeks later, on a rez in Minnesota, a group of kids tried it […]. Every single one got sick. Not lovesick for some girl they’d never met, but infected with an insatiable desire for more meth.
I can do my part to protect our medicines, while trusting that there are those in the community who are doing their part to preserve and protect many different medicine teachings.
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.
“I’m not just some emotional entanglement,” I say. “Jamie and I can handle being part of the investigation and having something that’s not so neatly defined.”
Ron shakes his head. He’s frustrated, I think, but what else can he say about it?
“Daunis, you do get that there is no actual Jamie Johnson, right? There is just a rookie officer who will do anything it takes to redeem himself after his first UC assignment went to hell. Including using you.”
“What do you mean?”
“Jamie was the one who proposed that he get close to you.”
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.
My heart skips a beat.
I tip the basket upside down. Staring at the floor where Dad’s scarf lands.
Green, like my mother’s eyes.
Levi kept it from me. He had it all along.
Nibwaakaawin. Auntie told me the translation, breaking down each part of the word so it made perfect sense: To be wise is to live with an abundance of sight.
My whole life I’ve wanted to be like my aunt. The way a person dreams about being a ballerina, but not of broken toes and years of practice. I wanted to be a strong and wise Nish kwe, never considering how that abundance of sight would be earned.
I wanted to find out who was involved in the meth madness that took Lily and Uncle David. Robin and Heather, too. And the kids in Minnesota who got so sick from meth-X.
The person I was searching for this whole time was Levi.
Wisdom is not bestowed. In its raw state, it is the heartbreak of knowing things you wish you didn’t.
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.
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.