Summary: Orvil Red Feather

Orvil and his brothers Lony and Loother arrive at the Big Oakland Powwow, which is packed with people. They use the change that they collected from the fountains to buy some fry bread, which they eat in their seats on the second deck. When Loother asks how much money Orvil could win dancing, Orvil answers that it would be bad luck to talk about it. Luther says that they could use the money for all sorts of things, such as a TV or new shoes. Orvil replies that if he wins, they will give all the money to their grandma Opal.

Orvil goes to the locker room and puts on his regalia. There are other older men and a few younger men like himself getting dressed. A huge Native man in full regalia tells the young men to make sure that they put all of their feelings and emotions into their dance. Leaving one’s problems in the locker room is for athletes, not Native dancers. Orvil believes what he says, marveling at the other regalia. He feels that his regalia pales in comparison to everyone else’s. Orvil fights his feelings of being a fraud and tries not to think about anything, so that he can “dance true.” The first dance is just the Grand Entry, where there are no judges. He goes out and dances with the other men and then looks for his brothers on the second deck.

Summary: Tony Loneman

Tony rides a train to the Big Oakland Powwow. He is dressed in his regalia. Many people are staring at him, but he is used to it, because people always stare at the Drome in his face. An older white woman asks him if he is Native American. He tells her that he is going to a powwow and that she should come. When she makes an excuse, he stops listening to her. Tony thinks he’s nothing but a story she can tell her friends and family at dinner. She continues talking, but he ignores her as he gets off the train at the Coliseum exit. 

Summary: Blue

On the morning of the Big Oakland Powwow, Blue drives to pick up Edwin Black. She has been back in Oakland for a year and has a job, a car, and her own apartment. She never found out anything about her mother, Jacquie Red Feather, while in Oklahoma. She has spent some time with Edwin, who is her intern, but she has made it clear to him that she is not romantically interested. She feels pity for Edwin, because his excessive concern about his own weight makes interactions awkward. She knocks on his door several times, thinking that it is rude that he is not ready, considering they’ve been working hard to plan the powwow for months. Edwin eventually opens the door and offers her a coffee.

Summary: Dene Oxendene

In a storytelling booth at the powwow, Dene sets up the camera that his uncle Lucas left him. The camera is the same kind that Darren Aronofsky used on his first few movies, including Requiem for a Dream—one of Dene’s favorites, despite the dark subject matter. Dene plans to ask people why they have come to the powwow and what it means to them. He does not need more video footage, but he feels it is important to document all of the people’s experiences.

Summary: Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield

Opal sits on the second deck at the Coliseum during the Big Oakland Powwow. She does not want her grandsons to see her, especially Orvil, as she doesn’t want to distract him while he dances. She thinks about how she used to bring the boys to baseball games, but they haven’t been since Lony was a baby. Opal sees Daniel’s drone fly in over the Coliseum’s outer rim.

Summary: Edwin Black

Edwin rides with Blue to the Big Oakland Powwow. He feels overwhelmed, both by his hopes for the powwow he helped plan and because his father, Harvey, will be there. Edwin tells Blue about a story that he started writing about a Native guy named Phil. Phil lets a white person stay in his apartment for a night, but then the white person invites other people to move in, too. When Phil gets upset, they make him live in the space under the stairs and assure him that the record keepers have everything in line. Blue is not terribly impressed but tells Edwin that the story is funny. She also makes a comment that “taking over” is part of white culture. Edwin says that his mom is white, but Blue interrupts him to say that he does not have to defend all white people. 

While setting up tents for the powwow, Edwin and Blue decide to bring in the safe from the car so they do not have to get it later. The safe is filled with Visa gift cards worth thousands of dollars.


The chapters in the fourth and final part of the novel, Powwow, are much shorter than those in the earlier parts, as the disparate characters whose backstories fill the earlier parts converge on one location. The frequent shifts in perspective help to create both the feeling of a crowd gathering as well as the panicked chaos when the shooting eventually starts. One key result of the short chapters is a disruption of the flow of events, as when different perspectives across several chapters describe the moment when Orvil is shot. Shorter chapters and sentences also create a tone of excitement and anticipation as they build momentum toward the climax.

At the Oakland Powwow, dressing like an Indian and being an Indian are not in conflict so the Native characters, particularly Tony and Orvil, for whom this has been an ongoing issue, can feel at ease. Both don regalia and despite various misgivings feel like a part of the community. The characters working at the powwow, Blue and Dene, think about the event differently although they understand that it provides a space for the expression of Native identity. Dene’s thoughts, as before, also serve as a reflection on the book as a whole when he wonders what it means that he enjoys stories about people suffering.

As throughout the novel, the expression of communal identity is juxtaposed across this section with the exploration of individual identity. The powwow will not only bring together Native Americans in a large sense but also will unify individual families. Edwin meets his birth father, Harvey, by design, while Blue accidentally locates her birth mother, making them distant cousins. Jacquie has traveled to the powwow to meet her grandsons and watch Orvil dance while her sister Opal is also there to watch Orvil. Each of these characters searches for personal connection, a desire Blue expresses as well when she imagines an alternative social media that lets people feel truly connected. The characters’ experiences and desires differ but the collective point is that a thriving community supports families in staying united.