Day 236: The Loon Feather

Cover for The Loon FeatherBest Book of the Week!
The Loon Feather by Iola Fuller is one of my favorite books from when I was a girl, and I still read it every few years. A fascinating story set on Mackinac Island, it compelled me to visit every spot mentioned when I was on the island during a vacation.

Set in the early 1800’s, the book starts with the birth of its heroine Oneta. She is Ojibway and the (fictional) daughter of Tecumseh, the famous Shawnee leader. A prophecy at her birth says that she will bring a husband to her people who will be more powerful than a warrior. No one knows what that means, but prophecies are apparently always right.

The beginning of the book traces the seasonal nomadic life of her people, followed during her early childhood. Tecumseh is killed fighting for the British against the Americans in the War of 1812 when Oneta is young, and she is raised by her mother and her grandfather. A wise woman, Marthé, is also important to her as a young child, but Marthé leaves them all to marry a French trapper.

The Ojibway make a yearly trip to Mackinac Island, where part of the settlement from the war is payment of reparations from the Americans. The island is a fascinating mix of Native American, French, and American cultures. Here Oneta and her mother encounter Marthé, who lives on the island with her husband and young daughter, and they gladly visit back and forth. But before the tribe departs for the year, Oneta’s mother becomes ill, and Oneta is left there to care for her until her grandfather returns the next year. After Oneta’s mother recovers, she works as a maid up at Fort Mackinac and meets a French accountant for the Astor Fur Company, Pierre, who marries her.

At first we see things only from Oneta’s point of view as a Native American. As Pierre’s fastidiousness and different tastes clash with his bride’s customs, misunderstandings arise. However, Oneta is eventually sent away to a convent school to be raised as a French girl.

When she returns to the island as a proper young woman, she is at first inclined to disdain her true heritage and must find a balance between it and what she owes to Pierre and Madame, his mother. She also witnesses the struggles of Pierre and her younger brother Paul, who prefers his Native American roots and envies Oneta her heritage.

The colorful setting is populated by French voyageurs, American soldiers and capitalists, and the Native American tribes, who begin to become aware how the workings of history are fundamentally changing their way of life.


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