But we reservation Indians don't get to realize our dreams. We don't get those chances. Or choices. We're just poor. That's all we are.
For Native people living on under-served reservations, poverty often defines their opportunities and life paths. Most of Junior’s community is stuck in generational cycles of wealth instability, substance abuse, and trauma. Dreams – or life ambitions that lead to success, happiness, and wealth – are available to communities outside of the reservation, like Reardan, but are depressingly out of reach for Junior’s peers. Even Junior, who possesses special talents that could be his ticket to success, is still harshly judged by non-Natives for his class and race, and he is seen as a stereotype rather than as an individual.
"Come on,” I said. “Who has the most hope?” “White people,” my parents said at the same time.
Junior’s parents immediately and simultaneously identify white people as the group that has the most hope for the future, cementing the idea that there is a deep divide between Native and white communities. While the novel is careful to point out that there are many poor white people, it’s clear that white communities generally have more resources, generational wealth, and high-quality education compared to communities of color. While white people face their own unique individual struggles, they can remain hopeful more easily than Natives, as their race and class privilege provides them with a leg-up and a cushion of support.
Reardan is the rich, white farm town that sits in the wheat fields exactly twenty-two miles away from the rez. And it's a hick town, I suppose, filled with farmers and rednecks and racist cops who stop every Indian that drives through.
Reardan and the Spokane Indian Reservation are established as opposite ends of a spectrum, with Reardan representing wealth and the reservation representing poverty. Junior recognizes that there is a connection between class and race that allows white people to often sit on the financially privileged side of the spectrum. That privilege also allows Reardan residents, especially law enforcement, to maintain the oppression of those on the poor side of the spectrum. Through comparing Reardan to the rez, Junior illustrates that one of the symptoms of privilege is the tendency to look down on others, to see them as fundamentally different due to their race and class.
"Just remember this,” my father said. “Those white people aren't better than you.” But he was so wrong. And he knew he was wrong. He was the loser Indian father of a loser Indian son living in a world built for winners.
Here, Junior displays his unflinching awareness of the distressing circumstances that Native Americans face in the United States, and the crushing oppression that has led Natives to experience cyclical poverty and lack of opportunities. While Junior’s perspective on race and class gains nuance throughout the novel, it’s undeniable that the outside world – which is often characterized by its whiteness, its wealth, and its access to exciting, life-changing opportunities – stands in stark contrast to the reservation, which offers very little in the way of a future for its young residents.
We had defeated the champions! We were David who’d thrown a stone into the brain of Goliath! And then I realized something. I realized that my team, the Reardan Indians, was Goliath.
Junior, who is upset with his Native peers for their aggressive treatment of him, is ecstatic when his basketball team beats the reservation’s team, with Junior even scoring a three-point basket against Rowdy. But in the aftermath of the win, Junior realizes that he has allowed his individual ambitions to cloud his perception of reality. Junior’s majority-white school has the resources and reputation to allow their students to go on to great lives, regardless of the success of their basketball season. But the rez kids lack money, support, and stability. Reardan’s win feels like overkill – yet another instance of wealthy, white communities punching down on Native communities, which have faced countless and unimaginable hardships.