MANITOULIN—Manitoulin author Danielle Daniel recently launched her first adult novel, and the book has been on the bestseller list for five weeks now. Inspired by Ms. Daniel’s ancestral connection to a young girl murdered by French settlers, “Daughters of the Stag” is a haunting work of historical fiction that brings to life the lives of vulnerable women in the Algonquin territories of the 1600s, while exploring themes of identity in 2SLGBTQ+ and racialized communities and their intersections.
The story begins in 1657. Marie is a gifted healer of the Clan du Cerf who does not want to marry the green-eyed French soldier who asked her for her hand. His people have suffered deep losses at the hands of the Iroquois and are threatened by disease and famine. She cannot refuse her leader’s request to accept the white man’s proposal in order to help his people.
Marie and Pierre’s eldest child, Jeanne, is caught between two worlds, neither white nor Algonquin. Aged 17 and single, Jeanne’s father must pay a heavy fine to the French crown until his marriage. Tragically, Jeanne is in love with Josephine, a sin for the colonists of New France and even for her own father. Among her mother’s people, she would have been blessed, her two-spirited nature a sign of special wisdom.
The cultural divide is very evident in this story. At one point Marie tells Pierre that the French are taking too much of the land and disrespecting the sacred gift of the moose. He doesn’t understand, until maybe it’s too late. Details of the bond between Mary’s people, the Weskarini and the land are woven throughout the book. This theme of broken connection and our disrespect for nature is very present in today’s environmental and climate issues.
Danielle Daniel is an award-winning author and illustrator, with two previous picture books and a mid-level novel (set in Sudbury) to her credit. Her picture book, “Sometimes I Feel Like a Fox,” is one of the New York Public Library’s Top 100 titles and won the Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award. “You Hold Me Up” was selected for the same award.
Ms Daniel shared some ideas about her novel during a recent Q&A session with The Expositor.
The Expositor: This is your first adult novel. You’ve already written books for children and college readers. I understand it was inspired by one of your own ancestors. What made you choose this particular story and adult readers?
Danielle Daniel (DD): I never intended to write a novel for adults. But when I heard about Jeanne, the daughter of an Algonquin ancestor who was murdered by French settlers, I couldn’t help but think of her. And thinking about how similar violence is still with us after nearly 400 years. I carried it with me for months and months during my day. I wanted to get closer to the kind of life she must have lived, but I couldn’t find any other novels written about this time period that depicted the lives and experiences of Indigenous women, and from their perspective. Finally, even though I had never written a novel, I felt like I had no choice: I had to let Jeanne and Marie, her mother, speak.
Exponent: This story is written from multiple points of view, with Mary being the common thread that connects the story and the character’s life. Can you tell me the story and why you chose these viewpoints?
DD: Marie’s voice was clear to me, almost from the start. Even if what happened to Jeanne is what haunted me at first, it was Marie, my Algonquin grandmother, who made me move on. It was through his eyes and his heart that I found a way to imagine the world of the novel. It also seemed important to include her settler husband’s perspective, although Pierre’s story became the smallest piece of the finished book. I had to write my way through the story as it was understood by Marie, and by Pierre, to be able to better see and feel Jeanne. Jeanne’s sections are the last ones I wrote.
Exhibitor: “Daughters of the Deer” takes us back to the early roots of colonization and its particularly harsh impact on Indigenous women, especially violence and property, two still modern issues. Can you talk about the connection between your story and modern issues, such as missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls?
DD: There was so little in the historical records of that time that put faces and names to Indigenous women, let alone the atrocities that occurred. The roots of violence against Indigenous women and girls go back to those early days of colonization. The destruction of the earth is directly linked to the destruction of a People, and in particular of its most vulnerable, women and 2SLGBTQ+. Settlers stripped the power of a people by uprooting a people from their place and stripping them of their culture, language and identity. The novel zooms in on a wedding, a first forced marriage between a First Nations woman and a French soldier-turned-settler, and the mixed-race children they bear, and all the terrible forces that led to the murder of their daughter. by the forces. By bringing them to life, I hope to show readers how we got here, and while the crisis of violence is still unfolding.
Expositor: Can you address the tragedy of the 2SLGBTQ+ characters in the story and why that was important to you when writing this story?
DD: Prior to colonization, First Nations viewed 2SLGBTQ+ people as possessing special and unique wisdom, with distinct gifts to offer their tribe. They were recognized as having enhanced abilities. 2SLGBTQ+ people were deeply valued and respected. I wanted to explore this clash between cultures in my novel because in our current society, 2SLGBTQ+ people continue to be the most exposed to violence. By illustrating this collision through the eyes of Mary, I was able to show this great suppression of a deep and accepted love that was revered before the arrival of the priests. And, more specifically, how it brutally affected their daughter Jeanne, caught between two worlds.
Exponent: This is a moving story that subtly addresses themes of exploitation, racism, colonization as well as strength and resilience. What would you like readers to take away from this? What is the conversation you would like to start?
DD: Writers often write to fill a void they see in the world. I wanted to imagine my path in the life of my ancestors, Marie, an Algonquin woman and Pierre, a French settler, and their eldest daughter, Jeanne. “Daughters of the Deer” is an origin story for all of us who live on Turtle Island. It is the story of a family that represents so many other untold stories of women, wounded by the hands of men who landed on their shores and refused to return home. As a writer and mother who cares deeply about reconciliation and who honors the structural and systemic changes needed to restore power, restitution and healing to this country, I hope readers come away with more empathy and of understanding for the aboriginal women who have gone before us. . I hope they will also remember their strength and resilience. And perhaps they will feel Marie and Jeanne, like me, when they walk on this earth.
‘Daughters of the Deer’ is published by Random House Canada and is available online and will soon be available from The Expositor’s Print Shop Books.