The 13: Ashi-niswi

Written by Lorin R. Robinson
Review by K. M. Sandrick

The 13 takes place in the time before time, the time before white men came to Gichigami (Lake Superior), the time when Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) were at war with the Dakota (Sioux).

In early spring, while men from a band of 90 Anishinaabe are hunting game, Dakota attack their camp. Many women, children, and old men are speared or axed to death, their scalps taken. Upon returning, the men decide they will find the evil ones and seek revenge—but now is not the time.

Sixteen-year-old Keeshegkoni (Burning Fire) has other ideas. He assembles a war party of 12 of his young friends to follow him. Told by his brother Animikil that he is too young and inexperienced to be included, 14-year-old Aajim (Tells a Story) nevertheless takes off after the war party, determined to avenge the death of his friend Omiimii whose “lustrous black hair had been ripped from her forehead.”

The trail leads Aajim on the path of 24 moccasin footprints, along animal trails, through rain and show, to a gathering of the Dakota tribe where he is witness to the fates of his older brother and friends.

Told in the straightforward language of a young Native American boy, The 13 gives voice to the ceremonies of the tribe, the actions of the spirit guide, the imagery of the forest and the raven, and the prophesy of dream. There is power as well as music in simplicity that leaves readers to define the boundaries of honor, duty, respect, and love and to appreciate the burden of Aajim.