Summary: Jacquie Red Feather
Jacquie Red Feather flies from Albuquerque to Phoenix for a conference hosted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration. She is a substance abuse counselor and has been sober for ten days. During one of the presentations, a speaker shares that when he was younger, his brother killed himself, which is what made the speaker want to work in suicide prevention. He states that suicide victims believe it’s better to be dead than alive because the world we’ve built is so bad. He also says that everyone is responsible for their deaths, even those who were absent from their lives. He quotes the staggering numbers of suicides in Native communities.
Jacquie leaves the conference quickly. In her hotel room, she begins to cry, thinking about her daughter, Jamie, who also committed suicide. Jacquie’s sister Opal has been raising Jamie’s three sons. Jacquie has spent most of her life battling alcohol addiction and has never met her grandchildren. When she thinks about drinking again, she decides that she should attend an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting instead.
The AA meeting is hosted by Harvey, the man who forced himself on Jacquie in 1970 at Alcatraz. When it is Jacquie’s turn to speak, she talks about how her alcohol addiction started in 1970 when someone forced himself on her. She looks directly at Harvey, who squirms in his chair but looks away. Jacquie talks about how she became pregnant and gave the baby up for adoption. She talks about Jamie, her second daughter, and how her addiction cost her that daughter too, and she has never met her grandchildren. Harvey closes the meeting and states that he is sorry for all of the people he has hurt throughout his life. Jacquie believes that Harvey has had a hard life. She remembers the day her family left Alcatraz, when she saw Harvey and his brother Rocky hiding in the water from their dad, who was chasing them with some sort of bat in his hand.
After the AA meeting, Harvey and Jacquie linger. He tries to talk to her, saying that he just found out that he has a son (Edwin) in Oakland. Jacquie becomes upset that Harvey is so casual, talking as if they are friends. He tells her that they should try to find the daughter that she gave up for adoption. He also says that Jacquie should come with him to Oakland, so that she can meet her grandchildren. She leaves upset. Back in her hotel room, Jacquie is tempted to drink again, but does not, instead removing the minifridge from her room and flinging bottles into the pool. She texts Opal to ask if she can stay with her in Oakland.
Summary: Orvil Red Feather
Orvil Red Feather is the oldest of Jacquie Red Feather’s three grandsons, all of whom are being raised by their great-aunt Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield. Opal has advised Orvil against participating in any Native American traditions, especially attending powwows. Orvil, however, believes that he must attend powwows and wear regalia to be an authentic Native American. He sometimes wears Native regalia that he found in Opal’s closet, but he is careful not to let Opal catch him.
Orvil and his brothers, Lony and Loother, travel to the Indian Center so that Orvil can participate in Dene Oxendene’s interview project. When Dene sets up a camera and asks Orvil to tell a story, Orvil talks about the day that Opal was given custody of the three brothers. Orvil’s mom, Jamie, had passed out and fallen face down on the kitchen floor. Orvil thought that she had overdosed on drugs, so he called the police. After a worker from Child Protective Services intervened, Opal was given custody of Orvil, Lony, and Loother. Orvil receives a $200 Target gift card from Dene for giving the interview.
The three brothers go to Target and use the card to buy Lony a bike. Orvil picks at a lump on his leg and pulls out black strands that he thinks are spider legs. When he and his brothers search the Internet to find a medical diagnosis, they find no matches regarding spider legs in someone’s leg. They determine this must be a Native American-related problem.
The three ride their bikes to the Oakland Coliseum for the powwow, without telling Opal. Orvil listens to powwow music, Loother listens to rap, and Lony listens to Beethoven. Orvil has brought the regalia in his backpack and plans to perform a dance that he saw on YouTube. The boys have scraped loose change out of several fountains so that they can buy food once inside the Coliseum. Since Loother has forgotten their bike lock, the boys hide their bikes in the bushes.
Taking full responsibility for one’s life and choices is the key theme of Jacquie Red Feather’s chapter, presenting yet another interpretation of the section’s title, Reclaim. In this chapter, to reclaim means to acknowledge that we owe other people debts and duties. This is implicit in her decision, announced early in the chapter, to stop abusing alcohol. Because she is employed as a substance-abuse counselor, this is an important choice. The first speaker at the conference she attends develops a similar theme, arguing that silence and inaction are choices, even if they might seem not to be, and that Native youth deserve more care and attention from the people hired to help them. At the AA meeting she attends, the man leading the meeting also talks about the importance of accepting responsibility for his past and the harm that he has done to others. Although these speakers are not exclusively speaking to Jacquie, they contribute to her decision to reclaim her family by meeting her grandsons.
Spiders, their webs, and their legs serve as key symbols in this pair of chapters, linked to the Bear Shield/Red Feather family and the Native community in general. Both Opal and Jacquie remember their mother talking about spiders, as the strands of their webs resemble stories (Opal) or as the webs themselves are both a “home” and a “trap” (Jacquie). For the younger generation, the grandsons, spider legs seem to be something “ndn,” a texting shorthand for Indian. The texting exchange about spiders activates Jacquie’s memory and plays an important role in her decision to return to Oakland.
Orvil Red Feather is eager to claim, not reclaim, his Native heritage, but Opal is opposed to everything associated with “Indianing.” Orvil’s confusion about what it means to be Native American is the chapter’s core thematic concern, as he fears never finding himself and being merely a “Pretendian.” Lingering with the question of identity, the chapter asks if identity depends on what one does, knows, or wears, or if it is a matter of who one is through lineage or family or blood. These are questions There There explores at length, in part because there is no single or simple answer to complicated questions about Native identity.