The first character introduced in There There, Tony is a twenty-year-old Native man grappling with multiple complicated inheritances–some physical, others cultural–as he explores what it means to be Native American. His imposing size and distinctive facial features, the manifestation of fetal alcohol syndrome, lead others to view him as threatening. The first detail given about Tony in the book is that he violently attacked a classmate. For Tony, this early moment of violence creates a pervasive worry about his own character. He wonders if he is scary and violent, like the stereotypical Native villain of the white imagination, or a hero, gifted and special as his grandmother insists. Throughout the novel, Tony tries to balance what he sees when he looks in the mirror, how others read or judge him, and his own thoughts. 

Like many of the characters in There There, Tony wonders what it means to be authentically Native. When he wears his regalia, Tony imagines that this is what it means to be Indigenous, to be seen wearing the clothes associated with his people. His emphasis on external evaluation—on what others deem him to be—makes this a reasonable conclusion, but Orange includes a second model for becoming authentically Native in the Tony chapters. It is also possible, Tony learns from his grandmother, to embrace one’s heritage by acting according to the values and principles it prizes and celebrates. He absorbs these ethical priorities in a roundabout way, from works she asks him to read (but which he does not understand) and from a movie about Transformer toys they watch together. In the novel’s final chapter, Tony remembers this movie and the lessons it taught him about sacrifice and bravery. Its lessons guide his actions and provide a path to redemption for the young man, who ends his life heroically, defending other Native characters from violence.