Florida Seminole Tourism

A Powerful Coming-of-Age Story in Angeline Boullay’s Firekeeper’s Daughter

Welcome back to Florida Seminole Tourism’s Summer Book Club! So far, we have explored selections for elementary and middle school age readers. The first week, we looked at Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Nobel Maillard and Powwow Day by Traci Sorell. Then, we explored Tim Tingle’s How I Became a Ghost and also A Snake Falls to Earth by Darcie Little Badger. Today, we start the next part of our Book Club, looking at recommendations for young adults and high schoolers. Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley (Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, Ojibwe) is a thrilling, action-driven mystery rooted around the Ojibwe community on Sugar Island. Meet Daunis Fontaine, a young woman caught between two worlds. After witnessing her best friend’s murder, Daunis soon becomes entangled in an FBI investigation into a new drug ring.

We advise you to read this novel with caution. The themes and events in it explore topics that are heavy and difficult. Intended for young adults, the novel contains on-page murder, violence, death by suicide, betrayal, racism, and sexual assault, and also discusses drug use and abuse. If you are sensitive to these topics, as advise you to skip this week and return for another one of our other book selections. Swing back Monday to look at Manmade Monsters by Andrea L. Rodgers (Cherokee). This anthology, illustrated by Jeff Edwards (Cherokee), weaves traditional Cherokee storytelling with modern horrors while following a single family across centuries.


The Story

Eighteen-year-old Daunis Fontaine begins Firekeeper’s Daughter already grieving. Reeling from the shocking death of her uncle and stroke of GrandMary, her maternal grandmother, Daunis is also navigating growing up, going to college, and staying true to herself. Half-Ojibwe and half-white, she also was born into the scandal of a mixed teenage pregnancy and the subsequent ending of her father’s promising hockey career.

Daunis still feels on the periphery of being accepted as either Native or white, despite being deeply intertwined with her Ojibwe family and community. But, Daunis is not an enrolled member; her late father was not on her birth certificate despite claiming her as his child. Yet, she feels a strong connection to both the Ojibwe community and the traditional teachings, learning from elders and her Aunt Teddie. She also cherishes her non-native family and tries to reconcile the two parts of her identity.

Struggling to navigate her recent traumas, Daunis copes through the support of her family and best friend, Lily. Daunis throws herself into piecing together the grip the drug has on her community when Lily is murdered in front of her by her meth-addled ex-boyfriend. Drawn into an FBI investigation into the drug ring, which appears to be based in her home-community of Sugar Island, Daunis works to protect the people she loves and the traditional teachings.

Firekeeper’s Daughter on the surface follows Daunis as she searches for the truth about the violence and poison that plagues Sugar Island. But, it also explores the path Daunis takes to understand herself, her own identity, and what she will do to protect her people. Daunis understands that someone from her community needs to be involved in saving it. “I need to be part of the investigation,” Daunis realizes “The community needs to be part of the solution.” (289) Daunis’ coming of age journey is one where her strength and love shine through the page.


Discussion Questions

  1. Compare Daunis at the end of the novel versus the beginning. In the first few pages of the novel, Daunis states “I’m definitely local. Yet, even with such deep roots, I don’t always feel like I belong. Each time my Fontaine grandparents or their friends have seen my Ojibwe side as a flaw or burden to overcome. And less frequent but more heartbreaking instances where my Firekeeper family sees me as a Fontaine first and one of them second…. It’s hard to explain what its like to be so connected to everyone and everything here…yet feeling that no one ever sees the whole me.” (33) How does Daunis’ image of her cultural identity change over the course of the novel? Include on page examples of her internal journey, and how she grows into her identity.
  2. Daunis feels compelled to be a voice for her community during the investigation. She strongly feels that Ron and Jamie do not understand her perspective, and desire to root out the poison while protecting those she loves and the cultural teachings. In what ways does Daunis protect Sugar Island, while continuing to make progress in her investigation? Give two examples. Explore how Daunis is able to hold back what she feels is unsharable, while still investigating.
  3. At the end of the book, why does Stormy stop talking, and what does it mean?
  4. What is a Firekeeper? How is Daunis a firekeeper, beyond her name?
  5. Research the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Children crisis. Throughout the book, we are introduced to many, many women who experience sexual violence and murder. Daunis herself laments that people do not care about the trauma, because of their Native identity. “I am so tired. The weight of my expendability is crushing. Not everyone gets justice. Least of all Nish kwewag” Daunis flatly states. (473)
  6. What do you think happened to Mike Edwards?
  7. How do the women and girls in this book uplift and protect each other? Give three examples.


Firekeeper’s Daughter

Firekeeper’s Daughter is a thriller, yes. The story quickly draws the reader into the mystery, the action, and the tenderness between Daunis and Jamie. But it also explores the contemporary Native experience, touching on topics that are present today. Missing and Murdered women, drug abuse, rape, cultural identity, family trauma, and the dark legacy of residential schools are all intertwined within the story, as they are real now in native communities. It also feels important, for Native and non-native readers alike. In a 2021 NPR review of Firekeeper’s Daughter, Caitlyn Paxson writes “As a non-Indigenous reader, every depiction and explanation of Ojibwe philosophy and traditions felt like a gift, and every depiction of injustice felt like a call to action. There has long been a need for more books that depict Indigenous people as living people in our modern world rather than as a romanticized and often inaccurate fairytale of the past, and Firekeeper’s Daughter carries that torch brightly.”

Firekeeper’s Daughter also brings the Ojibwe language directly to the reader, folding in and incorporating words like salt in a dish. As a companion to her book, Boullay and Ojibwe.net offer a language resource that shares pronunciation, meaning, and background to the words and phrases. As a way of reclaiming the language, the non-profit works to document and preserve the language.

“This site represents many things,” the front page reads “most of all, it is evidence that Anishinaabemowin is alive and well. A living language must be spoken fluently and used creatively. We have created this cyber space so that the ancient sounds are not lost and can be connected to anyone willing to listen, learn, and labor with us in the effort to maintain Anishinaabemowin.” Included on Boullay’s website is also a teachers’ guide and book club discussion guide.


A Contemporary Intersection of Faith, Trauma, and Growth

But beyond the action, what makes Firekeeper’s Daughter beautiful, strong, and gripping is Daunis herself. Incredibly sharp, Daunis takes the teachings from her aunt as a promise. Each day, she reaffirms her connection in a million little ways. She is proud to be Ojibwe. Throughout the novel, amidst her traumas and struggles, she holds steadfast to the teachings that keep her strong. After being betrayed by those who are closest to her, her connection to her people and also their traditions are what ultimately save her.

Even the very first scene of the book underlines this. “I start my day before sunrise,” Daunis begins “throwing on running clothes and laying a pinch of semaa at the eastern base of a tree, where sunlight will touch the tobacco first. Prayers begin with offering semaa and sharing my Spirit name, clan, and where I am from. I always add an extra name to make sure Creator knows who I am. A name that connects me to my father – because I began as a secret, and then a scandal.” (5) Daunis’ centers herself through the traditional teachings, and this is a theme that continues throughout the book as she navigates the path in front of her.

Structured in parts, the book quite literally is a journey that begins with a prayer. Daunis’ opening thought in the book is then mirrored in the very last lines, with another prayer and the beginning of another journey. Daunis closes the circle saying “Greetings, Creator. I am Red Bear Woman. Bear Clan. From the Place of the Rapids. Keep our community strong. Our women safe. Our men whole. Our Elders laughing. And our children dreaming in the language. Thank you very much for this good life. When the song ends, I stand at the eastern door. Where all journeys begin.” (488)

Photo by Marcella Hadden, part of Angeline Boullay’s media kit


About Angeline Boulley

An enrolled member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, Angeline Boullay is a New York Times Bestselling Author and storyteller. Time soon named Firekeeper’s Daughter one of the Top 100 young adult novels of all time. Additionally, Netflix is adapting Firekeeper’s Daughter into a TV show. Warrior Girl Unearthed, Boullay’s most recent novel, brings us back to Sugar Island and follows Daunis’ niece.

Boullay is a graduate of Central Michigan University and is dedicated to improving education for Native youth. In the Author’s Note at the end of Firekeeper’s Daughter, she writes about her inspiration for the book. Boullay shares “I set out to write Firekeeper’s Daughter because there are simply too few stories told by and about Native Americans, especially from a contemporary point of view. We exist and have dynamic experiences beyond history books or stories set long ago.” (489)

On her personal website, she also shares the impact her family and community have had on her. I have been shaped by a network of strong Anishinaabe Kwewag (Native American women), who may be called auntie, friend, cousin, or nokomis. My father is a traditional firekeeper, who strikes ceremonial fires at spiritual activities in the tribal community and ensures protocols are followed, while providing cultural teachings through stories told around the fire. He is one of my greatest teachers.” She ends with the simple statement “my home will always be Bahweting (the place of the rapids) in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.”


Looking For More?

Below, we have compiled a list of more native written and illustrated books for young adult readers!

The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline (Métis Nation of Ontario)

The Seed Keeper by Diane Wilson (Dakota)

Crazy Horse’s Girlfriend by Erika T. Wurth (Apache/Chikasaw/Cherokee)

Murder on the Red River by Marcie R. Rendon (White Earth Nation)

Fire Song by Adam Garnet Jones (Cree/Métis)


Author Bio

Originally from Washington state, Deanna Butler received her BA in Archaeological Sciences from the University of Washington in 2014. Deanna moved to Florida in 2016. Soon, she began working for the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s Tribal Historic Preservation Office. Deanna was the THPO’s Archaeological Collections Assistant from 2017-2021. While at the THPO, Deanna worked to preserve, support, and process the Tribe’s archaeological collection. She often wrote the popular Artifact of the Month series and worked on many community and educational outreach programs. She lives in Lakeland, FL with her husband, two sons, and dog.

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