Reservation Blues

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Checkers (Gladys) Warm Water Character Analysis

A Flathead Indian from Arlee, Montana, Checkers is described as perhaps the most beautiful Indian woman in all of America. She becomes a back-up singer in Coyote Springs, and falls in love with Father Arnold—she has a pattern of falling for older men, searching for stability within the precarious life of the reservation. Later she is haunted by dreams of Phil Sheridan, the time-traveling U.S. Army General, a figure of past suffering that haunts contemporary Native Americans. Checkers is very close with her sister, Chess, and the two sisters earned their money fighting forest fires in Montana before joining the band.

Checkers (Gladys) Warm Water Quotes in Reservation Blues

The Reservation Blues quotes below are all either spoken by Checkers (Gladys) Warm Water or refer to Checkers (Gladys) Warm Water. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Race, Culture, and Identity Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Grove Press edition of Reservation Blues published in 1995.
Chapter 5 Quotes

“Those white women are always perfect, you know? When I was little and we’d go to shop in Missoula, I’d see perfect little white girls all the time. They were always so pretty and clean. I’d come to town in my muddy dress. It never mattered how clean it was when we left Arlee. By the time we got to Missoula, it was always a mess.”

Related Characters: Checkers (Gladys) Warm Water (speaker), Father Arnold
Page Number: 139
Explanation and Analysis:

Checkers here confesses her childhood pain to Father Arnold as a way of explaining her current feelings of anger toward the interloping Betty and Veronica. In her story, we see the young Checkers confronting her outsider identity, and feeling intensely jealous of the clean white girls that she saw in town, whose beauty was celebrated and idealized by the society they all lived in.

The white girls' beauty, which Checkers felt was unattainable for her, is tied both to their whiteness and their cleanliness - a proxy for their wealth. Checkers and Chess, who likely only own one or two dresses apiece, have to contend with the mud flung up by their horse-drawn carriage on the long ride into town, since they cannot afford a car and live in isolation on the reservation. They cannot access the wealth that provides these white girls with their clean dresses, and Checkers especially feels this lack as a fault in herself, a frustrating cycle that she cannot escape and over which she has no power. The mud, therefore, represents both the girls’ poverty and their darker skin, neither of which can be easily washed away. Checkers’ fascination with white ideals of beauty is also held up by religion in her life, since, as she tells Father Thomas, she always sees Jesus painted as a white man.

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Chapter 8 Quotes

“I remember once,” he said, “when I killed this Indian woman. I don’t even know what tribe she was. It was back in ’72. I rode up on her and ran my saber right through her heart. I thought that was it. But she jumped up and pulled me off my mount. I couldn’t believe it. I was so angry that I threw her to the ground and stomped her to death. It was then I noticed she was pregnant. We couldn’t have that. Nits make lice, you know? So I cut her belly open and pulled that fetus out. Then that baby bit me. Can you believe that.”

Related Characters: Phil Sheridan (speaker), Checkers (Gladys) Warm Water
Page Number: 237
Explanation and Analysis:

Phil Sheridan, who is a record executive and, somehow, also an infamous Army officer from the Indian War, speaks to Checkers alone in her New York hotel room, where he has shown up unannounced. He describes in graphic detail a scene from a battle in 1872, when he killed a pregnant Native woman who fought back with remarkable ferocity before succumbing to his violent attack. Then he describes his cruel decision to kill her unborn child, since “nits make lice,” a horribly callous justification for an unjustifiable act of cruelty that equates Native people to insects. At the same time, this decision shows Sheridan’s awareness that violence and a desire for revenge are passed down through generations, a truth that has been borne out today, since the members of Coyote Springs are all still embroiled in the same suffering that was begun by this historical trauma. 

By collapsing time in an act of magical realism, and bringing this historically real Army officer into contemporary New York to attack Checkers, Alexie makes the continued consequences of that racial violence abundantly clear. Sheridan is still in a position of power over Checkers, although his methods of violence have changed; he wields the power of capitalism as a record executive who killed their contract after trying to appropriate their culture, and now he has the power of a potential sexual aggressor. 

Chapter 10 Quotes

In the blue van, Thomas, Chess, and Checkers sang together. They were alive; they’d keep living. They sang together with the shadow horses: we are alive, we’ll keep living. Songs were waiting for them up there in the dark. Songs were waiting for them in the city.

Related Characters: Thomas Builds-the-Fire, Chess (Eunice) Warm Water , Checkers (Gladys) Warm Water
Related Symbols: Horses
Page Number: 306
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, which ends the novel, Thomas, Chess, and Checkers cross the borders of the reservation on their way to a new life, accompanied by a herd of shadowy horses. They have finally grown so frustrated with life on the reservation and among its community that they have decided that the only way to keep hope alive and break the pattern of suffering and despair is to build upon the smaller community of love they have created amongst themselves, in a new place. When making this decision, Thomas is sad to leave the stories of the reservation behind - but the shadowy ghost horses that appear to shepherd them across the border are a sign that the spirit and history of their culture will accompany them, and this gives Thomas and his companions hope that songs are “waiting for them in the city.” They sing together now, using the blues as a means of overcoming there despair, and look to the future. There will be new stories, and new songs - and perhaps, this time, they will at long last have new endings.  

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Checkers (Gladys) Warm Water Character Timeline in Reservation Blues

The timeline below shows where the character Checkers (Gladys) Warm Water appears in Reservation Blues. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 3
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This chapter begins with a love song, and the reason becomes clear when Chess and Checkers Warm Water, Flathead Indian sisters, push their way to the front of the crowd. Checkers... (full context)
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...that Victor and Junior were “drunk as skunks.” The night of the show, Chess and Checkers helped Thomas pack the gear, since Victor and Junior were passed out in the van.... (full context)
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...Warm Water House are blazing, and Thomas asks if they live with their parents, but Checkers tells him their parents are gone. They leave Victor and Junior to sleep in the... (full context)
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...begins to cry, and takes a moment to herself in the bathroom. Thomas asks about Checkers, who is listening in the next room and crying a little herself. She remembers her... (full context)
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...was dead—he convinced himself she had run away with another man. He brought Chess and Checkers small gifts whenever he returned from searching. One time, he brought each sister a Pepsi... (full context)
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...kitchen after Victor farts, and Thomas follows her. Victor and Junior are left alone with Checkers. They compliment her crudely, but she makes it clear that neither of them has a... (full context)
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...explains that Victor is broke—they all are, and that’s why the band exists. Chess and Checkers are poor too, fighting fires for the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) in the summer... (full context)
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Struck with an idea, Thomas invites Chess and Checkers to join the band as singers. Chess is skeptical, unwilling to leave home. Victor objects... (full context)
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...The audience goes wild, begging for more “music, hope, and joy.” After the show, Chess, Checkers, and Thomas find Victor and Junior naked and drunk in the back of the van... (full context)
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Checkers goes to sleep on the pool table inside, while Chess and Thomas sit on a... (full context)
Chapter 4
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...Victor and Junior, too, are jaded to this sight, and they go inside. Chess and Checkers help Thomas lift his father into the house and lay him on the kitchen table.... (full context)
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...nothing left to be good at. Now, looking at him on the table, Chess and Checkers are surprised he ever played: he is dirty and overweight. Checkers says that sometimes she... (full context)
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Checkers thinks of the Indian beggars who have asked her for money, calling her sister or... (full context)
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...their cousins drink this mixed with rubbing alcohol. They fall silent, and then Chess and Checkers sing a Flathead song of mourning, for a wake, and Thomas sings with them, as... (full context)
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Chess and Checkers wait for Thomas in the kitchen, jealously watching Samuel sleep. Checkers tells Chess she knows... (full context)
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...the present, in the kitchen, Thomas asks Chess if she ever drank, and she and Checkers reply that they never did—they were too scared. They think of Samuel, and of their... (full context)
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Thomas, Chess, and Checkers talk about Thomas’s mother, who died of cancer. Thomas tells them that she drank, too,... (full context)
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...Victor jokes that they should stick an apple in Samuel’s mouth and roast him, and Checkers slaps him. She begins to struggle against him, until Victor throws her down. Then Chess... (full context)
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...Chess return to the house to announce their decision. Junior is under the table with Checkers, while Victor eats all of the applesauce himself. The announcement is interrupted by the crazy... (full context)
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In the present, the van leaves and Checkers waves goodbye to everyone but Victor. She is planning to go to church, to meet... (full context)
Chapter 5
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Back at the reservation, Checkers dresses up to go to the Catholic Church and meet Father Arnold. She wears Nikes,... (full context)
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Checkers begins to tell Father Arnold about Junior and Victor having sex with Betty and Veronica.... (full context)
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Checkers remembers when Father James brought his white nieces to the reservation for a visit. They... (full context)
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When the white nieces left, Chess and Checkers saw them off at the train, and Checkers wanted so desperately to go with them,... (full context)
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...book of magic tricks from the burning pile and ran away. Chess tells him that Checkers is planning to go and see Father Arnold, and that Chess herself is thinking about... (full context)
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In her journal, Checkers writes that she has fallen in love with Father Arnold, and she thinks he might... (full context)
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...or my symbols, for I will impale you on my flag pole.” On the reservation, Checkers dreams of Father Arnold—the two of them are naked, and he lies beside her, smelling... (full context)
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The interviewer asks about Checkers, and Thomas tells him she stayed behind to sing in the Church choir. He says... (full context)
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On the reservation, Checkers sings in the choir, watching longingly as Father Arnold conducts the service. She steps past... (full context)
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...asks Thomas if he’ll come with her to church on Sunday, and tells him that Checkers probably has a crush on Father Arnold by now. After a while, Thomas asks how... (full context)
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...finally relents, agreeing to go with Chess to church. They pull into the driveway, seeing Checkers silhouetted against the bright lights of the house. Chess runs to greet her, and Thomas... (full context)
Chapter 6
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...issue with Betty and Veronica, names Victor and Junior as drunks, calls out Chess and Checkers for being Flathead (not Spokane) Indians, and calls Thomas a “crazy storyteller.” It would be... (full context)
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On Sunday morning, Thomas accompanies Chess and Checkers to the Catholic church, fighting the urge to run away. Chess holds his hand as... (full context)
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...that they have a lot of potential and describing them in commercial terms. Chess and Checkers, for example, would attract men with their “exotic animalistic woman thing.” Junior is “ethnically handsome,”... (full context)
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Checkers searches for Father Arnold, and finds him cleaning generations of Indian graves in the Catholic... (full context)
Chapter 7
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...Junior, laughing at his fear, and hands him two huge drumsticks. She calls Chess and Checkers by their real names, Eunice and Gladys, and leads them to a sweat lodge, leaving... (full context)
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In Checkers’ journal, she writes that it felt like Big Mom could read inside her head. They... (full context)
Chapter 8
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...the executives, who are angry that the “Indians” are rejecting their generous help. Chess and Checkers throw Sheridan’s money back in his face. Outside, Victor continues to rage, wanting to attack... (full context)
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Chess, Checkers, and Thomas wait in their hotel lobby worrying about Victor and Junior—they want to find... (full context)
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...A police report records that Thomas and Chess have reported the pair as missing now. Checkers falls asleep in the hotel room, and dreams that Sheridan has come to apologize, waving... (full context)
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In Checkers’ nightmare, Sheridan tells her that he has known her and dreamed of her for centuries,... (full context)
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...surprised when George Wright answers their knock on the hotel room door. He explains that Checkers just had a nightmare, and wanted him to wait up with her until they returned.... (full context)
Chapter 9
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...out over the reservation and the gathering crowd, and then shot himself. The night before, Checkers had climbed out a window of Thomas’s house, hiding to avoid death threats and the... (full context)
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Checkers finds Father Arnold kneeling in the front of the church, crying. She approaches him, leaving... (full context)
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Checkers is devastated: everything is failing. The band hadn’t even bothered to take their instruments home... (full context)
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On the night before that, Thomas and Chess discuss their future while Checkers sleeps on the floor beside their bed, escaping from her nightmares of Sheridan. Chess wants... (full context)
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Chess and Thomas finally decide they will go to Spokane. The two of them and Checkers share cups of powdered milk for breakfast, hating it. The day before this decision, Robert... (full context)
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...focus more on study, and less on basketball. Arnold cannot bring himself to talk about Checkers, so he ends the call. (full context)
Chapter 10
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...walks down the mountain. She finds Father Arnold packing his bags, and asks him about Checkers. He tells her that he loves her, but is too scared and uncertain. Big Mom... (full context)
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...his mother and father. Big Mom and Father Arnold take turns leading the service, while Checkers, Chess, Victor, and Thomas watch. Lester and the three dogs are also present. The dogs... (full context)
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Checkers goes straight to bed after the funeral. Chess asks her if she’s still bothered by... (full context)
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Checkers refuses to speak to him alone, insisting that Chess stay with them. Arnold apologizes, but... (full context)
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Big Mom lights sage, and Chess, Checkers, and Thomas get ready to pray, for everybody, as Big Mom puts on a record.... (full context)
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...is gone. Victor wanders around the reservation with the three dogs, while Thomas, Chess, and Checkers prepare to leave for Spokane. Thomas tells Chess he isn’t worried about saying goodbye to... (full context)
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...he feels at home there, and that the people might need his music. As Chess, Checkers, and Thomas start to leave, Big Mom takes up a collection for them from the... (full context)
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As they drive away in silence, Chess, Checkers, and Thomas think about the future. They finally admit that they are scared, and they... (full context)