Jackson’s grandmother’s powwow regalia represents the property that white people’s destruction of American Indian people’s property, cultures, and identities. The regalia was stolen from Agnes 50 years before the events of the story—but rather than having what is rightfully is returned to him for free, the pawnbroker makes Jackson earn it back by sending him on an impossible quest for $1,000. In this way, the pawnbroker symbolizes white Americans more broadly, and the regalia symbolizes the land, cultural practices, artifacts, and other material possessions that they’ve taken from American Indians for generations. These stolen possessions should be returned to their rightful owners, but American society, just like the pawnbroker, is unwilling to shoulder the economic cost of making reparations to American Indians.
The powwow regalia also reveals how violence and theft have disrupted the generational transfer of cultural knowledge in American Indian communities and have left the younger generations, like Jackson’s, feeling disconnected from their cultural identities. Jackson never got to see his grandmother dance in her regalia and desperately wishes that he had; in fact, he sees his quest to retrieve it as a way to bring her lost cultural knowledge back into his life. When he finally gets the regalia back, Jackson is able to symbolically reconnect with a piece of his cultural identity that had been missing.
The Powwow Regalia Quotes in What You Pawn I Will Redeem
If you put Junior and me next to each other, he’s the Before Columbus Arrived Indian, and I’m the After Columbus Arrived Indian. I am living proof of the horrible damage that colonialism has done to us Skins. But I’m not going to let you know how scared I sometimes get of history and its ways. I’m a strong man, and I know that silence is the best way of dealing with white folks.
I knew that the solitary yellow bead was a part of me. I knew that I was the yellow bead in part. Outside, I wrapped myself in my grandmother’s regalia and breathed her in. I stepped off the sidewalk and into the intersection. Pedestrians stopped. Cars stopped. The city stopped. They all watched me dance with my grandmother. I was my grandmother, dancing.
I wondered if my grandmother’s cancer had started when somebody stole her powwow regalia. Maybe the cancer started in her broken heart and then leaked out into her breasts. I know it’s crazy, but I wondered if I could bring my grandmother back to life if I bought back her regalia.