Orvil Red Feather stands in his great-aunt Opal’s room, using her full-length mirror to examine himself. He is dressed in full Native regalia—and is nervous that Opal will catch him wearing it. Opal has never taught Orvil or his brothers about what she calls “Indianing,” claiming there are “too many risks” to young Native boys. Orvil has begged Opal to teach him about the Cheyenne tribe and his heritage, but Opal says that “learning about your heritage is a privilege” which their family does not have.
Orvil is drawn to the rituals and traditions of his culture, even though he’s been effectively walled off from learning about his roots for all his life. Opal’s desire to keep her grandchildren safe from the same traumas she endured as a child has led her to distance them from their culture—but Orvil is ready to change all that.
Orvil knows that he and his brothers were the unwanted children of a heroin-addict mother, given over to Opal after their true grandmother, Jacquie, was unable to care for them. The boys often beg Opal for details about their mother, who gave them all nontraditional spellings of common names—Orvil, Lony (pronounced “Lonny”) and Loother—but Opal doesn’t speak much about Jamie.
Orvil knows well the traumas which haunt his family’s past—and yet doesn’t want to shy away from them, but rather yearns to know more about who he is and where he comes from.
Now, standing in the too-small, itchy regalia, Orvil feels out of place and underwhelmed. He has learned everything he’s learned about being Indian from the internet—YouTube videos of powwows and dances, and various other websites about Native culture and heritage. Orvil has wanted to be a dancer for years, drawn to the “ancient-seeming” ritual, but now that he is dressed like an Indian, he still feels like a “fraud.”
This passage mirrors passages from Edwin’s story—like Edwin, Orvil has turned to the internet, a tool of the future, to learn more about his past and his family’s past.
Orvil, Lony, and Loother stop at the Indian Center on their way to get Lony a new bike. Orvil is participating in a project—and is being paid $200 to talk to a Native filmmaker named Dene about any story from his life he wants to tell. When Orvil sits down in front of the camera, Dene explains that stories told by people like you can make you “feel less alone” and strengthen the community. Orvil tells a sad story about a day when he and his brothers were still living with their mother: they came home to find her passed out on the kitchen floor with a bloody nose. Orvil called an ambulance, which took Jamie to the hospital. The boys went to meet their grandma Opal there, but by the time they got there, their mother was already gone—she’d just been knocked out from the fall.
Orvil wants to participate in Dene’s project in order to make some money for his family—just like Octavio and Daniel, he’s motivated by the desire to provide for those he loves. This shows that very different actions can have similar motivations. The story Orvil offers up is short, bleak, and deeply personal—yet he delivers it almost flatly, wanting to get the process over with so that he can obtain his $200.
Orvil and his brothers leave the Indian Center with a gift card for $200. As they ride their bikes to a nearby Target to get Lony one, Orvil feels an itching in the lump in his leg that’s been there “for as long as he can remember.” At Target, Orvil uses the bathroom, where he feels something poking out of the lump—he pulls it out, and sees that it is a spider leg. He keeps the legs he pulls out in toilet paper and shows them to his brother Loother, who is similarly astonished.
The spider legs emerging from Orvil’s legs symbolize his emergence into manhood—and his preparedness to enter the larger Native community. Orvil, like the spider legs, has been buried and itching to escape—the legs portend that he will soon get that chance.
Lony buys his bike, and the brothers ride together down the streets of Oakland, listening to rap music even though Orvil’s favorite thing to listen to is powwow music. When they stop for a rest, they discuss the spider legs in Orvil’s leg, and decide to call their grandmother. They determine that whatever’s happening, it’s “definitely Indian,” and Opal will know what to do. They leave a message for her and then poke at the legs in the toilet paper before resuming their ride home.
The boys all marvel at the strange omen, and in spite of their distance from what it means to be Native, even they know that the legs portend something connected to their family’s culture.
The day of the powwow, Orvil and his brothers sneak out of the house quickly to avoid confronting Opal about where they’re going. Over dinner last night, no one discussed the spider legs. They ride their bikes all the way to the coliseum, and are surprised by how big the arena is up close. As they approach, Lony asks if they can stop for a second. He asks his brothers what a powwow is—he wants to know why everyone dresses up to “dance and sing Indian.” When his brothers don’t answer them, he accuses them of making him feel stupid any time he asks them anything. Orvil gently replies that powwows are meant to carry on “old ways” so that the community doesn’t forget them.
This passage makes it clear just how isolated Lony is from his people and his culture. He doesn’t understand what the traditions and rituals of Native life are, let alone why they need to be preserved—unlike Orvil, he hasn’t yet taken his cultural education into his own hands.
The boys approach the coliseum and see “real Indians” in full regalia streaming into the arena. They are excited to go inside the powwow, and, earlier that morning, stole coins out of fountains around the neighborhood in order to scrape together enough money to purchase Indian tacos—tacos made with fry bread—as a treat. At the entrance, Orvil realizes that Loother has forgotten to bring a bike lock, and so the boys hide their bikes in some bushes. Though Lony is anxious about leaving the bikes behind, Orvil says there’s no way he’s not going into the powwow.
Nothing is going to stop Orvil from getting into the powwow—he’s worked so long and so hard to prepare himself for it, and he and his brothers have tirelessly scraped together funds to make the day as fun as possible.