As a medicine man, Betonie bridges the real and the mythical worlds. As would be expected, he spends much of his time in communication with spirits and stories to which others do not have access. The story of his own childhood appears magical, as he is descended from a woman who one day appears hanging in a treetop and turned out to be in search of her husband. In these ways, Betonie is like the other medicine man in the story, Ku'oosh. However, Betonie is also shockingly connected with the mundane details not only of Native American society but also that of whites.

Betonie attended a white-run boarding school and keeps old gas station calendars among his sacred herbs and stones. He lives not at the sacred center of the reservation, but on a cliff overlooking a run-down white town. He is descended from generations of Laguna medicine men and women only on one side; the other part of his ancestry is Mexican. He is a kindred spirit to Tayo, standing at the brink of a culture clash. But while Tayo tries desperately to make sense of the world, Betonie was raised with a deep understanding of it, and a profound tolerance for it. Where Tayo cries, Betonie laughs.

While Betonie is wise, he is not omnipotent (all-powerful). Medicine men are vehicles rather than agents; they observe, remember, and advise, but they need patients through whom to perform their ceremonies. Betonie provides Tayo with the tools and the faith Tayo needs in order to complete the ceremony. Betonie's role is that of the teacher, rather than of the hero.