In an interlude similar to the prologue, an unnamed narrator describes the pilgrimages that Natives from all over the country make to attend powwows, events which bring people together, give them an opportunity to tell their stories, and build community. Powwows were created because Native people “needed a place to be together”—a place where they could celebrate the old ways, make money, and see and hear each other. The people traveling now to the Big Oakland Powwow haven’t just been traveling for miles or days; their journeys represent “years, generations, lifetimes […] beaded and sewn together, feathered, braided, blessed, and cursed.”
The narrator ruminates on the ways in which blood—blood status and “Native blood quantum”—has been used to identify and oppress Native people for centuries. The “unattended wound” of colonialism, discrimination, and attempted genocide has festered and grown infected. Native people are not “resilient” in the face of this wound, the narrator posits, and asks: “Would you call an attempted murder victim resilient?”
Even though powwows are events meant to celebrate Native culture, the narrator suggests that no powwow can be truly joyous, as the lingering wounds of trauma, violence, and attempted genocide are a part of the fabric of Native life.
The narrator discusses the structural disadvantages Native people have to face every day of their lives, and the pain of being told to “get over” the long, winding history of trauma folded into every Native family. The narrator suggests that the people who uphold these structures—namely, white people—will find their lineages “paved with gold, or beset with traps” if they look into their pasts, where their ancestors “directly benefited from genocide and/or slavery.”
The narrator has no qualms about calling out the structural inequalities and systemic racism which still, after all these years, work together to erase the Native experience. The narrator suggests that because so many people benefit from—or live in ignorance of—these problems, they’ll never really be fixed.
No one who has come to the Big Oakland Powwow has come expecting gunfire—though mass shootings in America are commonplace, no one arriving at the powwow believes it will happen to them. Like the Natives traveling to the powwow themselves, the shots that will soon ring out there will not just come from a gun—they will come from “everywhere, inside, outside, past, future, now.” The narrator writes that “something” about the shooting will make sense, as the bullets launched during it will have been “coming from miles [and for] years.”
The narrator describes the many unseen forces which have propelled this moment into existence. Many different things—from confused cultural identities to gun laws in America to internalized self-hatred to financial desperation caused by systemic oppression—are behind the terrible violence that’s going to take place. The narrator is treating the story of the novel almost as a parable about how all the problems that plague America—and remain undealt with—will just create more and more violence and trauma as the years go by.