Hello mersquad and other friends.
I’ve been feeling like I wanted to talk more about what I’ve read so far in Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley, most especially some of the commentary on a character’s connection – or lack thereof – to their Indigenous heritage. Being someone who is in a very similar situation, and like this character, being dismissed and ostracized for it, it hit a spot in my heart.
If you haven’t read this yet, or like me you haven’t finished it yet, don’t worry. Nothing of what I’m typing is considered a spoiler, and it takes place within the first few chapters of the novel. However, if you don’t want to be spoiled by anything in the book whatsoever, this is where you should stop reading. No hard feelings if that’s the case! I totally understand.
For anyone that does end up reading the rest of my post, thank you so much and I appreciate your support.
So here’s a little backstory on the novel as a whole. Our main character Daunis is biracial: part Ojibwe and part white. She is also unenrolled to either tribe, so she doesn’t have much say in tribal matters, nor do other enrolled tribal members really accept her. Her dad’s side is from the Anishinaabe, which she also calls her Firekeeper side. I’m not sure if that sets something up for you, but that can at least give you some idea of what comments Daunis may hear about herself, and may even others that aren’t full Ojibwe.
Daunis has a best friend Lily, who is also part white as well as part Ojibwe. Before she lived with her Granny June with the Anishinaabe, she lived with her Zhaaganaash (white person) dad where “they kept her out of the sun so her reddish-brown skin wouldn’t get any darker.” On the other hand, Danuis is so pale that the other Nish kids call her Ghost and “washed-out”.
We both learned early on that there is an Acceptable Anishinaabe Skin Tone Continuum, and those who land on its outer edges have to put up with different versions of the same bullshit. ~ p.13
Even though both Daunis and Lily are immersed in their tribal culture and even live with their Anishinaabe family, they would still get shit about their skin color, something that nobody has control over… from their fellow Ojibwe. Now, I know that colorism is not a rare thing and colorism within the races happens a lot more than it should, but it’s still really disheartening that young women (even 18 year-olds) had to learn early on that they just have to somehow deal with it. I don’t know how many times I’ve been put down because of my skin color, for being “too dark” or looking “too Black” or whatever else people decide to say about me. It clearly happens to a lot of people, but that doesn’t mean that it should, and it doesn’t mean that we should allow these people to demean us for no reason at all.
I feel like this was added because of how true this is in any culture, in any race, in any group of society. Sometimes being able to put it in a novel makes people more aware of how wrong it is, you know? If someone can see that its wrong to judge people by the color of their skin in a book, shouldn’t they be able to see that it applies in real life?
So besides Daunis and Lily having their issues and whatnot, there’s another character that we meet that has a little bit of a different issue they deal with. This is not to say that Daunis and Lily don’t have other microaggressions or discrimination that they face, but you can see more of that as you read further.
So there is a new team member for the Sault Ste. Marie Superiors hockey team named Jamie. He’s already the talk of the town because he’s a Native player that made the team, and from what everyone has heard, he’s supposed to be a really great player. He happens to be Cherokee, but didn’t grow up around any family (just like me actually!). When there’s an issue about shirts with owls and immunizations, he didn’t know that the owl is a companion for crossing over when someone dies. Unfortunately, I didn’t know that either. Daunis is a little surprised, and guesses that Jamie may not know his culture, which I would say is correct from this point, which is also the same as me.
Later in the day, Daunis reflects on what little she knows about Jamie, and starts to wonder if Jamie feels unseen whenever he moves to a new place, and not being connected to his tribal community. She starts to relate because she feels the same way.
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 a burden to overcome. And the less frequent by more heartbreaking instances when my Firekeeper family sees me as a Fontaine first and one of them second. When they say things about the Zhaaganaash and then, a beat later, remember that I’m in the room too. It’s hard to explain what it’s like being so connected to everyone and everything here… yet feeling that no one ever sees the whole me. ~ p. 33
Even in the book community, I’ve been made to feel like I’m not what I am because I’m not fully immersed in all of my cultures. I know I am Cherokee from my great-Grandma on my father’s side, but she passed away shortly after I was born. Nobody else in my family is immersed in the Cherokee community, and there’s nobody in my family that I could learn more about what it means to be Cherokee. This lack of opportunity makes people think that I can’t be truly Cherokee, and so I’m dismissed. The same thing goes for me being both Chinese and Korean from my mother’s side of the family. I was lucky enough to be able to grow up with my Chamorro culture and part of my Japanese culture because that’s how I was raised, but I understand that not everyone has that privilege to be able to do so, and that doesn’t make anyone less of what they are because of it.
Is the problem gatekeeping? Or is it something else? Why is it that some people refuse to accept those that weren’t able to be fully immersed in their cultures? And why does it seem like it’s applauded sometimes when it happens?
Have you ever been on the receiving end of this before? Are you on the giving end? What are your thoughts? Let’s talk about it below.