By Mrs. McHugh
Our region is rich with Native American history, but it’s all too easy to focus only on lives from the past. These recent books remind us that Native Americans still exist today, striving to preserve their cultures and cope with the scars of a turbulent past.
In The Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley, Daunis is a young woman whose community is wracked by drug abuse and mysterious deaths. When she agrees to help with a police investigation, she grows close to an undercover officer who is posing as a local hockey star. Soon, she feels torn between protecting her community and bringing people to justice. The story takes a little while to build as it introduces its multigenerational cast of characters and the traditions of the Ojibwe culture. The action-packed ending is worth the wait. It’s a crime thriller, family saga and cultural celebration all in one.
There, There by Tommy Orange tells the stories of a dozen different characters whose lives converge at an Oakland cultural festival. Despite their different reasons for attending – some hopeful, some scared, some ready for violence – they all share the scars of the nation’s oppressive treatment of Native Americans, which includes forced removal from ancestral lands and the erasure of culture in government-sponsored boarding schools. These scars come through as struggles with poverty, suicide, alcoholism and identity. The mix of voices telling the story is powerful and eye-opening.
Hearts Unbroken by Cynthia Leitich Smith follows Louise Wolfe, a Native American high school senior living in a largely white Kansas town. When the director of the school play shakes up the casting of their production of The Wizard of Oz, the ensuing backlash reveals long-held prejudice and divides the community. As Louise writes about the controversy for her school newspaper, she begins to fall for a fellow student. But she knows that “dating while Native” is never easy. Whose hearts will be broken before this is over?