Warrior Girl Unearthed is Angeline Boulley’s follow-up to her award-winning debut, Firekeeper’s Daughter, which I loved; I was really excited to return to this world. We go back to the Ojibwe community of Sugar Island and meet our protagonist Perry, 16-year-old niece of Daunis, the primary character in FD. Set ten years after the first novel, Perry’s plans for a relaxing summer are disrupted when she wrecks her car and is forced into a summer internship to repay her Aunt Daunis for covering the cost of repairs. Interning at the local museum, she begins learning about NAGPRA (Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act); unfortunately, she also quickly learns about all the shitty ways organizations use loopholes in the law to avoid returning remains and artifacts from their collections. At the same time, a rising number of indigenous women are disappearing and her community is very much on edge.
Things get real for Perry when the museum curator takes her to a meeting at the local college about repatriation efforts; Perry is rightfully enraged and disgusted by the disrespect she sees in the white faculty members’ casual handling of and attitude towards her ancestors’ remains. “Back to see my girl?” one professor asks before opening a locked metal box to reveal “Warrior Girl,” whose 1,000-year-old skeleton is intact; the box includes the flint-blade, deer-antler handle knife that was buried with her. Though she’s learning the legal hoops her people are expected to jump through, she’s also incredibly angry and just 16-years-old — she doesn’t always make the best choices . Eventually, Perry recruits several of her intern friends to help her in her quest to return remains and artifacts to the tribes they belong to — the heist begins.
To really bring a focus to the reality of the NAGPRA process, each chapter of the book begins with real-life quotes and excerpts regarding NAGPRA and the problems faced by tribes in reclaiming remains and artifacts. These were truly a gut punch. For example: “You have significantly more deceased Native people in boxes on your campus than the number of live Native students that you allow to attend your institution.” —Shannon O’Loughlin, chief executive of the Association on American Indian Affairs, in a letter to Lawrence S. Bacow, president of Harvard University, February 18, 2021.
The repatriation story is mixed in with continuing commentary on the issue of MMIWG2S, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and Two-Spirit People. Like with Firekeeper’s Daughter, Boulley does an incredible job of balancing heavy topics with a lot of humour and love. The relationships we see are clearly filled with love and respect and the secondary characters are well-written. (Shout out to Shense and the return of Granny June!) We learn a lot about Ojibwe culture, past and present, and also about the issues that modern tribes & reservations face, without ever feeling preached to, which is a feat.
As much as I enjoyed this one, and Boulley has definitely become an automatic read for me, it didn’t pull me in with quite the same force as FD. The ending felt rushed, I guess? That said, I’d still highly recommend it – 4 stars.