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Chapter 26: Old Flame
Cash is taking Alice to the stomp dance, which starts around midnight and lasts through the night. They arrive at the Ceremonial Grounds where a fire is burning that is as old as the Cherokee people—they brought this flame on the Trail of Tears and its embers have never died. When Ledger Fourkiller, the chief, arrives, everyone moves to sit around the fire. The people are gathered in groups by clan. Sugar tells Alice to sit with her, as they are both of the Bird Clan. Alice feels a little unsure, but Sugar tells her that she has just as much Cherokee in her as Sugar does. The chief says blessing, gives a talk in Cherokee, and everyone passes around his pipe.
When he is finished, everyone starts dancing around the fire. In the inner circle, the teenage girls dance with shackles on their legs—shells filled stones that rattle when they move. When Alice begins to dance, she feels transcended to a new place she has never seen before. Alice is moved by the songs and the girls' shackles, which sound to her like the forest. For the first time, she feels she is completely part of something. She thinks of the music as something that loses all its individual parts and becomes one whole sound; her own loneliness and troubles fade and she finds herself overtaken by this new world.
Chapter 27: Family Stories
Alice and Sugar go to the Cherokee Heritage Center to find Alice's ancestry in the Cherokee roll. They write down the enrollment number of Alice's maternal grandmother. Sugar explains that many people on the Nation are "watered down" Cherokee, that Alice should not feel any less Cherokee than the next. Feeling guilty, Alice thinks enrolling may help her cause.
Alice then goes to meet Annawake again, this time at her Uncle Ledger's house. Annawake and Alice sit by Ledger's lake. Alice asks her if Turtle's custody case would be treated differently if Alice and Taylor enrolled, claiming their Cherokee blood. Annawake says it could be advantageous for Taylor, but that becoming a Cherokee legally is not the same as culturally becoming Cherokee. Additionally, Annawake tells Alice that she has had someone on the Nation ask her to find a missing a relative, who may be Turtle. Annawake seems a little curious that Alice does not know anything about it.
Annawake again tries to explain to Alice why she is pursuing Turtle's case. She tells Alice of the Trail of Tears, explaining the "holocaust" executed against her people. Many years later, in the early twentieth century, the Nation's government was dissolved by federal order. Cherokee kids were sent to boarding schools, and land was sold off.
Annawake goes on to talk about how differently the Cherokee conceive of family. They do not distinguish between nuclear and extended family. She knows that taking Turtle back would cause extreme pain, but also knows that someone on the Nation would be "made whole again." It is a moral dilemma for both Annawake and Alice.
This novel has a few different subplots that the reader should be able to recognize. Alice's journey to a less lonely state of mind is one. When the book opens, Alice has left the bed of her husband—literally and figuratively—and wandered solitary into her garden. She feels an intense desire to leave her life with Harland, but feels she has nowhere to go. Two thoughts make her feel less lonely: Taylor and her cousin Sugar. Over the course of the novel, Alice seeks out these two women. In helping Taylor, she bumps into a community that can offer Alice a more fulfilling life.
Chapter 26 constitutes Alice's new introduction into this community. The stomp dance is no less than a religious reawakening for Alice. This moment alludes back to Jax's conversation with Gundi, when he spoke of what it means to lose oneself so completely that communal life becomes possible. This abstract idea is exactly what Alice is experiencing. She speaks of forgetting about her own arms and legs, and letting her body "[slip] into its place in the endless motion." She even says she cannot locate exactly who she is in the group, but she knows she is a part of it. Even the music loses its individual parts and becomes one whole. All of these observations are made in the most reverent way: Alice has no feeling of resentment or anxiety that she may be losing her individual identity. In many ways, she has many years of loneliness to make up for.
The chapter epitomizes everything that Alice missed when she was with Harland, and for that matter, all of the things Harland missed as well. Harland lived by the truth that anything he could do or see was easier to do or see on T.V., and he therefore, needed nothing but television. At this point, Alice explicitly references this conviction; when she hears all these people in the middle of Oklahoma talking in Cherokee, she knows that she had to be there to experience it.
Another part of this same idea is Alice's comment that the stomp dance was the first Indian experience she had that was segregated from the tourist industry. The television is one of America's most treasured means of marketing. Living in a T.V. world, one could never learn what real Cherokee gatherings felt like. At one point in the dance, she feels her legs exerting energy, and is reminded of the Stairmaster on Harland's home shopping channel. She thinks of this dance as a spiritual Stairmaster. The book seems to be saying that although the Cherokee Nation cannot be thought of completely separated from American culture, Cherokee culture can be represented in a way that's not only based on commodity and marketing.
The reader at this point is perhaps more inclined to sympathize with Annawake. Although Annawake has spoken all along about the benefits of living in a tribe, those benefits have not been fully dramatized until this chapter. The reader does perhaps have a sense that the tribe offers Annawake and others who have lived on the Nation a sense of community, but not until the stomp dance is an outsider converted to this way of life. Alice's feeling of full-inclusion foreshadows the way in which Turtle will respond to her welcome on the Nation.
Both these chapters, but specifically Chapter 27 address the idea of bloodline. When Alice finds that she has enough Cherokee blood to qualify for enrollment, she feels guilty, like she is getting away with something. After her conversation with Annawake, the reader understands that Cherokee identity has more to do with living around Cherokee people than anything else.