“Firekeeper’s Daughter” Book Club Questions

Firekeeper’s Daughter is technically a Young Adult book, but it’s long…the Kindle reading time is over 8 hours…and Daunis, the protagonist is 18-going-on-19, so this this book bridges the gap in more than one way. This type of book is also known as a “New Adult” book; see more info on that below.

I like this book because of its perspective into MODERN Ojibwa life (set in 2003). I felt it showed multiple perspectives of the the experience of people living on and near the Ojibwa reservation…some who are members of the nation/tribe, and some who are not. 

And there is a lot of action. Don’t think that anything is going to be spared because this book is tagged “YA”.

Table of Contents

Book Club Questions

Who is Angeline Boulley?

Background Information for Firekeeper’s Daughter

What to read after Firekeeper’s Daughter

Book Club Questions for Firekeeper’s Daughter

For tips on running a great book club discussion, check out our guide here! There is so much going on in Firekeeper’s Daughter that we have more questions than usual. Don’t even think of doing them all! Choose the ones that are most interesting to you and your group.

Warming Up 

  1. Think back to your childhood or other key parts of your life. What made you feel as though you belonged or didn’t belong? 
  1. How would you describe your heritage? 
  1. To whom or what do you feel the most loyal? 

Digging Deeper 

  1. How do the events in the novel make it difficult for Daunis to keep her life compartmentalized, which is largely how she has dealt with her varying roles in the community? 
  1. How do the characters in this novel struggle with identity in this book? 
  1. Do you wonder what aspects of the Ojibwa experience the author has glossed over since life for many people seems to be ok, yet meth still becomes such a problem in the community? 
  1. Which of the characters do you find believable or not believable? Why or why not? Did your response undermine your enjoyment of the story? 
  1. With regard to Ojibwe culture, what did you learn, or what struck you the hardest? How did you respond to this revelation? 
  1. In what ways is life on and around the “rez” similar or different than the way you imagined it? What surprised you? 
  1. Going back to the myth of the Firekeeper’s Wife*, in what ways has Daunis followed it or subverted it? 

*See page 150 in the linked document and page 176 in Firekeeper’s Daughter.

Wrapping Up 

  1. How do you imagine the lives of the characters, especially Daunis, 10 years after the events in the novel? 
  1. What does the author want us to understand about Ojibwe culture and the people who life in and around it? 
  1. “‘Love means wanting you to have a good life, even if I’m not in it'” (477): In what ways do the characters in this book follow or fail to live up to this ideal? Do you think it is a valid interpretation of the meaning of love? 

Who is Angeline Boulley?

Angeline Boulley is a career educator who has spent most of her career working to improve educational opportunities for Native Americans. Now she writes full time.

She spent 15 years taking The Firekeeper’s Daughter through numerous drafts before finally getting it to publication in 2021.

Boulley grew up in the area depicted in novel. She originally got the idea for the story when she was in high school herself. She remembers hearing about someone new at a neighboring high school. When the student first came, a friend thought he might be someone good for Angeline to date. Later, the friend changed her mind because the “new guy” was hanging with the “stoners”.

It turned out that the “new guy” was an undercover officer. Boulley kept imagining a scenario where she did meet and date him, which is the beginning of this story.

Background Information for Firekeeper’s Daughter

What genre is Firekeeper’s Daughter?

This novel is classified as a Young Adult novel, which may surprise you if you don’t read YA often or haven’t read it in a while.

First, the characters are a bit older than they traditionally are in YA literature. The protagonist, Daunis, is 18-going-on-19. At the beginning of the novel, she has finished high school and is starting college.

The estimated reading time for this book on Kindle is more than 8 hours, which longer than many “adult” novels.

Firekeeper’s Daughter is actually an example of a newish sub genre in publishing called “New Adult“. This category of fiction is intended for readers who haven’t fully transitioned into adult life themselves. The books are about this transition.

One way to think of the difference between YA or New Adult fiction and adult fiction about young or new adults is the point of view. If the book is written from the point of view of a teenager or “new adult”, it probably falls into one of the above categories. If it’s from the narrative point of view of an older adult looking back on these years, whether the voice is full articulated or not, it is probably an “adult” novel.

Does genre matter?

Remember that these categories are just for description and marketing. Readers of all ages enjoy books meant for people of any age. The categories just help us as readers sort out what we do and don’t like at any particular stage in our lives.

I found Firekeeper’s Daughter much more accessible and enjoyable than many novels set in Native American communities because I don’t know much about these nations, and as a “new adult” novel, this one is explicitly explains the context of the story.

Many adults choose YA and “new adult” fiction for a variety of reasons, so don’t feel strange about picking one up! Read what you enjoy!

Ojibwe language map for Firekeeper's Daughter
Precontact Anishinaabemowin Language Map from Wikipedia

Ojibwa Nation in Firekeeper’s Daughter

The great thing about The Firekeeper’s Daughter is that author Angeline Quilley explains a lot about Obijwa culture and life on the upper Michigan peninsula in the context of the book, so you probably won’t get lost. But it’s always fun to know more.

Sault Ste Marie, Michigan is a real place and home of the Obijwa Sault Tribe (formerly known as Chippewa). Yes, there is really a casino there too, called Kewedin.

Ojibwa Culture and Beliefs

While The Firekeeper’s Daughter gives you a basic understanding of their cultural beliefs, I found some resources for those of you who want more.

I tried to be careful to find sources that seem authentic and focus specifically on Ojibwa. The Ojibwe nation is one of the largest Native American groups in the United States AND is the second largest First Nations group in Canada, so that alone allows for a lot of differences.

You can learn about the history of the Ojibwa here.

This page from Ojibwe.net shares some of the stories, prayers, and vocabulary in The Firekeeper’s Daughter in English and Anishinaabemowin, with audio.

Muskiiki, The Four Sacred Object Medicines from Bookbrowse.com has a good explanation of Daunis uses herbs in the novel.

Finally, I had a lot of difficulty finding anything reliable about Ojibwa death rituals, which seemed important given that the title The Firekeeper’s Daughter is connected to them, but finally I found this article in the Duluth News-Tribune that explains both Ojibwa practice and the integration of Christian Roman Catholic practices reliably, with the caveat that this article references a different Ojibwa band.

Native American Communities and Gaming

Have you ever wondered why so many Reservations have casinos?

Basically, tribes have fought for and won the right to operate casinos on their lands under laws that grant them sovereignty. In some ways, reservations operate as nation-states within the United States. Native populations turned to gaming as a way to raise income and take care of their people. You can read more about it here.

It’s a bit of a complicated story since gaming is something that has been often dealt with separately in different Native Nations and different American states, so accounts vary. Note that the Ojibwa Nation is made up of numerous bands whose lands span several states (not to mention crossing into Canada), so even for them, accounts vary. So the explanations Daunis offers in the novel may or may not be true for other nations. Also remember that Boulley set The Firekeeper’s Daughter in 2003, so things change!

The Cherokee Nation

Jamie mentions his interest in connecting with his Cherokee heritage several times in Firekeeper’s Daughter. Like the Ojibwa, the Cherokee Nation is one of the larger ones in the United States and operates many casinos, including Harrah’s Cherokee in North Carolina and 10 casinos, including a Hard Rock casino, in Oklahoma.

The Cherokee are originally from lands that are now in the southeast United States, but they were forcibly relocated to “Indian Territory” in present-day Oklahoma in 1838.

Meth in the Ojibwa and Native American Community

This article delves into the issue of the use of meth on Indian reservations, where it has affected those caught up in it just as much as it has anywhere else. I wondered if there were any reason why the plot is set in 2003 when Firekeeper’s Daughter was published in 2021. The answer seems to be that 2003 was the year Boulley started writing this novel! The setting being relatively close to the emergence of meth makes sense because if the supply chain had already been established, the plot of the novel wouldn’t make sense.

What to Read After Firekeeper’s Daughter

Warrior Girl Unearthed, released May, 2023, by Angeline Boulley

Cover of book Warrior Girl Unearthed by Angeline Boulley, author of Firekeeper's Daughter

Louise Erdrich

Well-known author Louise Erdrich is also Ojibwa, but she is from North Dakota. Her National Book Award winning The Round House is a great choice for fans of Firekeeper’s Daughter.

Cover of The Round House by Louise Erdrich, from the same Native American nation as Firekeeper's Daughter
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