Though 18-year-old Daunis’s dad has been deceased for more than a decade, she nevertheless comes from two close-knit and supportive families. On Mom’s side, the Fontaine side, Daunis grew up with her mom’s support as well as that of her grandmother GrandMary and her Uncle David. On the Firekeeper side, Daunis is extremely close with her Auntie Teddie and Auntie’s family, which connects her to her Ojibwe heritage and community. Much of Daunis’s growth over the novel happens as she finds her place within her family and within her Ojibwe community—and learns that she doesn’t have to act independently all the time. Rather, the novel proposes that being part of a family and a community means being willing to offer help to others, in addition to accepting support as needed. Daunis is struck by the fact that she can indeed rely on her community after her half-brother Levi and the meth cell he’s involved with kidnap her—Elders, even those Daunis didn’t think liked her all that much, help Daunis escape without her even explicitly asking for help. This, the novel implies, is just what community members do for one another, just like Daunis sees it as her duty to drive Granny June to the Elder Center for the community lunch every day. But while support can mean physically being there and supporting someone, Daunis also discovers that families and communities can support members by letting go. Daunis spends much of the novel caring for Mom, who’s mentally and emotionally fragile and (Daunis believes) requires her constant presence. However, by the end of the novel, Mom is finally willing to accept that Daunis going away to college in Hawaii is good for Daunis, and that supporting her daughter in this endeavor is one of the kindest things Mom can do. Being a good, supportive family or community member, the novel suggests, means offering the support a person actually wants—and in some cases, being willing to let a person go.
Family and Community ThemeTracker
Family and Community 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.
Auntie overheard us talking and sat us down. She talked about the boarding school that Granny June’s daughters had been scooped up and taken to. Years spent marching like soldiers and training to be household domestics. They had the Anishinaabemowin and cultural teachings beaten out of them. When they came back to Sugar Island, one of the girls had scarred palms that looked like melted plastic, and she ran into the woods at the sound of a kettle whistle. Her sister was afraid of men and had to sleep with her back against the wall. Auntie had told us, When you criticize Maggie, just remember she was raised by one of those sisters, the one who didn’t kill herself.
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.
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.
“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.”
“Once your mother is feeling better, I hope you’ll rethink staying home. I know Indian kids struggle in college because they’re not prepared academically or socially, but Daunis, you’re not like them.”
Words truly do fail me. All I can do is gape at her in disbelief.
“Well, I don’t mean anything bad about Indians.” Mrs. Hammond looks around anxiously. “You know I’m not prejudiced.”
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.
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.
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.
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.