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Riveting storytelling in Warrior Girl Unearthed by Angeline Boulley

Warrior Girl Unearthed by #AngelineBoulley is a portal into the lives of Native American women in twentieth century. Boulley’s previous novel, Firekeeper’s Daughter, establishes her as an award-winning author who can deftly transport her readers into a suspenseful mystery in the Ojibwe community on Sugar Island. Warrior Girl Unearthed is Boulley’s second novel. Boulley’s writing creates another heroine with Perry Firekeeper-Birch, cousin to Daunis, who was the main character from the previous book. Perry is consumed with finding the missing ancestors and possessions that her Anishinaabe tribe is fighting to bring home to the reservation. Perry must fight to advocate for her community, her family and herself as there are several Indigenous women who are missing and an enemy stealing their ancestors’ remains.

Perry is a forthright and outspoken young woman who resists others telling her what to do. When she discovers the human skeletons of her ancestors in the possession of a “collector,” Perry is outraged at the disrespectful conditions. She vows to steal them back and give them proper burial. Boulley’s haunting descriptions of the ancestors is poignant and distressing. “I stick with my original plan to reclaim only those baskets signed with Sugar Island family names I recognize. If I try to take anything else, I will not stop. I sing to those I am leaving behind. Niminjinawez. I am sorry…”. This conflict between tribes and institutions/collectors is a theme of Boulley’s novel. She eloquently gives the argument to Perry and her mission to rescue the ancestral remains in one private collection.

I enjoyed Boulley’s vivid history of the Anishinaabe fight to reclaim ancestors and possessions that museums and institutions had laid claim to and refused to relinquish. “…Cooper says museums use that label, ‘culturally unidentifiable,’ as a catchall if they don’t have the resources to do a proper inventory. He says they also use it even after tribes provide evidence, because then, the museum can still hold on to the objects.”

The actual law from the “US Department of the Interior is the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act #NAGPRA”. This law should protect the tribes in their efforts to reclaim their ancestors. Since 1990 the statute “requires institutions that receive federal funding to inventory their holdings of Indigenous human remains and burial objects to facilitate their return to the respective tribes.” The NAGPRA law Boulley references in Warrior Girl Unearthed is the crux of her argument for why indigenous remains should be returned to their tribes for proper burial.

The eponymous “warrior girl” is the skeleton Perry discovers that the local college has claimed to be “culturally unidentifiable” in order to allow the college to keep the remains. Perry is incensed by this law and it stirs her emotions to act and save the ancestors in the heist that is the climax of the book. This law and the debate are imminently important to the themes Boulley wants to illustrate for the readers.

Perry is a heroine that readers can embrace for her moxie, bravery, and her flaws. She shows her anxiety and fear for her people and her traditions. Perry is also determined to protect her family. When the disappearance of indigenous women hits close to home, Perry fights for her future.

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