When federal FBI agents Ron and Jamie ask 18-year-old Daunis to help them in an undercover investigation into a suspected meth cell, Daunis is suspicious and conflicted. This is because she’s well aware that the federal government has an awful track record when it comes to its dealings with tribal communities. So, while Daunis understands the need to figure out who’s making and selling the meth that’s decimating her community, she’s less convinced that federal agents—even those who are Native themselves—are truly capable of helping. This highlights one of the novel’s main ideas (and main conflicts): that the government’s treatment of Native communities has led to rampant distrust and misunderstanding between federal and tribal entities (and between non-Native people and Native people), which has manifested in the present as bigotry and cultural insensitivity. This, combined with the unhealed generational trauma that Daunis and the Sugar Island Ojibwe members live with, makes working with the FBI in a manner that’s respectful to Daunis’s cultural beliefs difficult, if not impossible.
Throughout the novel, Daunis enlightens readers to the various ways these conflicts play out. She details how it’s only in the last few years, since per-cap payments to enrolled tribal members started, that more talented tribal kids have been able to afford to play hockey or figure skate. But still, Daunis and other Ojibwe hockey kids face bigotry and discrimination, as when Daunis’s high school secretary observes that Daunis isn’t like other tribal kids who, she believes, are socially inept and poorly prepared to succeed in college. Daunis also notes that the last residential school closed only two years before her birth, and the trauma these schools caused continues to reverberate throughout her community. Auntie, for instance, cautions Daunis and Lily to give Lily’s mom Maggie some grace, as Maggie’s mother was the only sister in her family who didn’t die by suicide after suffering abuse in the schools. Finally, Daunis also recognizes that it’s bigotry that leads the FBI to not pursue charges when members of the meth cell kidnap her—though they press charges for Jamie’s kidnapping, as he’s a federal agent. This impresses upon Daunis her own “invisibility and expendability,” and it paints a grim picture that suggests that the relationship between tribes and the federal government—and between tribal members and white people—isn’t going to improve anytime soon.
Generational Trauma and Bigotry ThemeTracker
Generational Trauma and Bigotry 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.
“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.”
“Your kiden needed protection from bad dreams?” I raise an eyebrow.
She laughs while zipping her jeans. “Dream catchers are sexy.”
When Lily and I were on Tribal Youth Council, we all played a game called Bigotry Bingo. When we heard a comment that fed into stereotypes, we’d call it out. Dream catchers were the free space. Too easy. There were so many others, though.
You don’t look Native.
Must be nice to get free college.
Can you give me an Indian name for my dog?
Maybe-Megan’s tattoo would have been good for another square: Native Americans as a sexual fetish. The more she talks, the more squares I mark […].
“I’m honoring Indians,” she says in response to my lingering scowl.
“Plus, I’m part Indian, so it’s okay.”
“My great-grandma was an Indian princess.”
Lily, we have a winner!
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.
“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.”
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.
“Does your family know what you do? Going undercover in tribal communities?”
“They know I work for the FBI,” Ron tells her. “My sister thinks it’s dangerous. My cousins think I’m a sellout. I do this work because we need good people working at the agencies that help tribes.”
Auntie snorts. “Scariest words ever spoken: ‘I’m from the federal government and I’m here to help.’”
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.