I had cursed my family. I had left the tribe, and had broken something inside all of us, and I was now being punished for that.

Junior’s guilt over leaving the reservation high school to attend Reardan is crushing. His Native peers, like Rowdy, believe that the tragedies befalling the Spirit family are Junior’s fault, and Junior seems to believe this as well. His escape from the reservation coincides with three major deaths of family and friends, and considering Junior’s understanding of Native culture as communal and tight-knit, it’s understandable (but heartbreaking) that he feels these untimely coincidences are in fact divine punishments for his betrayal of his tribe.

Well, life is a constant struggle between being an individual and being a member of the community.

Gordy understands Junior’s concerns about leaving his tribe to go out into the world, but he also offers perspective to Junior by reminding him that the struggle of choosing between family vs. self is an age-old one. Junior isn’t alone in his decision – countless humans throughout history, from all different places and circumstances, have had to leave their homes for a better life. Gordy’s reminder eases Junior’s guilt and helps him connect to others like him, from individuals he knows, like Penelope, to the many immigrants of America who have faced the same obstacles as Junior and succeeded.

We Spirits stay in one place. We are absolutely tribal. For good or bad, we don't leave one another. And now, my mother and father had lost two kids to the outside world.

Despite Junior’s parents’ support of his decision to go to Reardan, Junior feels increasingly guilty for leaving the reservation high school, and by extension, his tribal community and family. He also recognizes that his courageous decision inspired his sister to finally chase her dreams as well, and while he’s happy for her, he worries that they’ve abandoned their family to follow their individual ambitions. Junior knows that his parents, like most on his reservation, gave up on their own dreams due to poverty and alcoholism. Their lives have been hard, and he feels that he’s increasing their loneliness and unhappiness by setting out on his own.

Your sister is dead because you left us. You killed her.

When Rowdy, distraught over Mary’s death, speaks these words to Junior, he confirms Junior’s greatest fear: that his tribe believes his departure from the reservation has caused a curse. One of the beautiful things about the reservation is that the people are very close-knit. Everyone knows each other, and everyone shares the same ancestral and cultural roots. But this closeness is a double-edged sword, as it’s frightening and hurtful for such an intimate community to lose a member to the outside world. After centuries of confinement, it’s easy for a grieving Rowdy to conflate Junior’s abandonment of the reservation with the tragedies befalling its residents.

I realized that I might be a lonely Indian boy, but I was not alone in my loneliness. There were millions of other Americans who had left their birthplaces in search of a dream.

For Junior, the struggle between community obligations and individual goals is never truly resolved. Even at the end of the novel, Junior feels deep pain over the knowledge that he will eventually leave his reservation – and Rowdy – behind. However, he does come to accept that his relationship with his tribe will never quite be the same, and that this is the price he must pay if he wants to create a better life for himself. He finds solace in knowing that millions of other Americans have also left their homes and families, and that while he might often be a lonely individual, he is not entirely alone: he is a member of the “tribe” of dreamers.