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Q & A with the bestselling author of ‘Firekeeper’s Daughter’

Angeline Boulley (Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians) is a writer who often tells stories about the Ojibwe community where she lives in Michigan’s upper peninsula.

One of her stories is now a commercial success: the New York Times bestselling debut novel – “Firekeeper’s Daughter” – about an Ojibwe teen who goes undercover to root out corruption in her community. The novel is written for young adults and has been celebrated in recent weeks by Secretary of the Interior, Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo) and Rep. Sharice Davids (Ho-Chunk) of Kansas, among other Indian Country dignitaries, authors and critics.

The book is set to be adapted for television by Netflix.

Angeline Boulley (Photo Amber Boulley)

Boulley credits a network of strong Native American women – relatives and friends – who have shaped her life and work. The title is a nod to her father, a traditional firekeeper and one of her greatest teachers, she said, who lights ceremonial fires during spiritual activities in her tribal community.

The Seminole Tribune asked Boulley via email about the book and its themes. Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

What has the reaction been from Indian Country about the novel?

It has been incredibly supportive. The most surprising and wonderful thing was when an Ojibwe woman I met tried to tell me how much the story meant to her. We shared a look that conveyed everything she couldn’t put into words. That moment was everything.

Have you gotten feedback from young adults?

Yes. I’ve done a few in-person book signings in my tribal community and received great feedback from teen readers. I absolutely love fan art, which is something that young adult readers draw of the characters and favorite scenes.

You write about enrolled versus unenrolled tribal members. How much tension is there?

How much? I couldn’t say. The really interesting thing is how many tribes have stories about the role of the [Bureau of Indian Affairs] in developing their tribal constitutions. Some tribes had enrollment criteria imposed upon them as a condition of getting a constitution approved. Also, when the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 was enacted, the funding was not adequate to recognize all tribes.

My family comes from the Sugar Island Band of Ojibwe and had been seeking recognition for decades. When we finally received recognition in the 1970s, it was as the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians and included a number of historic bands lumped together. In my view, the heavy hand of the BIA fostered deep discord within my tribe that continues to impact our citizens today. And my tribe isn’t an isolated example.

You write about drug use, racism, murder and sexual assault in the book – what can you say about those issues in Indian Country?

These are issues that disproportionately impact Indian Country because of jurisdictional quagmires, inadequate federal resources to address crimes, deficient crime data collection, and the lack of communication and cooperation between agencies. Recent federal actions are a promising start to address these issues.

What’s next for you?

I’m working on my second book. If Firekeeper’s Daughter was “Indigenous Nancy Drew,” then book two is “Indigenous Lara Croft.” Except instead of raiding tombs, the main character will be reclaiming ancestral remains and sacred items from museums and private collectors to return home – until one of her heists goes very badly.

Editor’s note: Firekeeper’s Daughter is available for purchase through several booksellers.

“Firekeeper’s Daughter” gained quick
notoriety after its release. (Courtesy image)
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Damon Scott
Damon is a multimedia journalist for the Seminole Tribune. He has previously been an editor and reporter for digital and print media in Florida and his home state of New Mexico. Send him an email at damonscott@semtribe.com.
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