There There is a collection of stories about different people who are all traveling to the Big Oakland Powwow in California. Each chapter follows a different character, describing their history and explaining why they are going to the powwow. Each of the characters is Native American, but not all of them embrace their heritage.
Tony Loneman, twenty-one years old, was born with fetal alcohol syndrome. While he grew up believing he was not intelligent, he has natural street smarts. When he looks in the mirror, Tony sees what he calls “the Drome”: the facial features associated with fetal alcohol syndrome. Tony lives with his grandmother and has been selling drugs since he was thirteen. His drug supplier, Octavio, shows him a 3-D printed gun and tells him that they are going to rob the Big Oakland Powwow at the Oakland Coliseum.
Dene Oxendene lives in Oakland and is a young, motivated artist. He obtains a grant to make a storytelling documentary in which Native people share their perspectives on living in Oakland. He inherited both his camera and his interest in moviemaking from his late uncle. Dene plans to set up a storytelling booth at the powwow.
Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield and her sister, Jacquie Red Feather, were children when their mother took them to Alcatraz Island in 1970 as part of Native American protests. Opal mostly spent time with her mother there, while Jacquie spent time with a group of teenagers. Before leaving the island, Jacquie was raped by another teen named Harvey. She became pregnant and put the baby girl up for adoption. When Opal and Jacquie’s mother died, they entered the foster care system. Jacquie had another daughter, Jamie, who went on to have three boys: Orvil, Loother, and Lony. Jamie was a heroin addict and eventually killed herself. Since Jacquie was still battling alcohol addiction, Opal adopted Jacquie’s three grandsons. While raising the boys, Opal has taught them that they are not to engage in any Native activities.
Orvil Red Feather, the oldest of Jacquie’s grandsons, watches footage of powwows on the internet. Feeling a connection to the dancers, he finds a set of Native regalia in Opal’s closet and practices dancing. He takes his brothers to the Big Oakland Powwow without telling Opal, hoping that he can win prize money by dancing. Opal goes to the powwow to watch, careful not to let the boys know that she is attending.
Jacquie Red Feather lives in New Mexico, where she works as an addiction counselor but still struggles with alcoholism herself. She has never actually met her grandsons. When she runs into Harvey at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, she confronts him about their past. Harvey has just learned that he has a son in Oakland named Edwin, and Jacquie tells him that they have a daughter, the one she put up for adoption. Jacquie agrees to ride with Harvey to Oakland, even though she has a difficult time forgiving him.
Harvey’s son, Edwin Black, still lives with his mother, even though he is in his thirties. His mother helps him get a paid internship at the Indian Center where he helps organize the Big Oakland Powwow. Her boyfriend, Bill Davis, works as part of the maintenance crew for the Oakland Coliseum, where the powwow will be held.
Blue is Jacquie’s first daughter, who was put up for adoption. She was raised in Oakland but later moved to Oklahoma. Stuck in an abusive marriage, Blue escaped Oklahoma and moved back to Oakland. She has been working at the Indian Center in Oakland for a year. She and Edwin plan the Big Oakland Powwow.
Calvin Johnson lives with his sister in Oakland. He and his brother Charles work for Octavio, Tony’s supplier, selling drugs. Calvin owes Octavio money and has been avoiding him. Charles and his crime partner, Carlos, take Calvin to Octavio to sort out the issue. Octavio tells the group that they are going to rob the Big Oakland Powwow with 3-D printed guns that can get through the security checkpoint. Because Calvin works at the Indian Center, he is afraid that he will be recognized.
Thomas Frank goes to the powwow to drum and sing for the dancers. He has recently been fired from the Indian Center, but drumming gives him a sense of belonging.
On the day of the powwow, Blue and Edwin arrive early to set up the field. Dene Oxendene sets up his storytelling booth, hoping to film interviews with people and ask what the powwow experience means to them. Harvey is the powwow emcee, and Jacquie sits with him in the tent with all of the sound equipment. Edwin and Blue walk over and meet Harvey and Jacquie. Harvey embraces Edwin, recognizing that he is his son. Blue thinks that Jacquie might be her mother and is in shock (she does not realize that Harvey is her father). Jacquie sees Orvil’s name on the list of men who will be dancing.
Orvil and his brothers, Loother and Lony, ride their bikes to the powwow. Orvil puts on the regalia that he took from Opal’s closet and dances out during the Grand Entry. Up in the stands, Opal watches his performance.
Entering the Coliseum with their 3-D printed guns, Calvin, Octavio, Charles, Carlos, and Tony approach the table where Edwin and Blue are sitting. Tony is supposed to do the actual holdup while the others keep watch, but he changes his mind. In his place, Octavio approaches the table and points his gun at Edwin and Blue, demanding the money. After Octavio has the money (in the form of Visa gift cards), Charles and Carlos try to rob him. Octavio shoots at Charles but then is killed by Carlos. Calvin dies in the crossfire. Tony, seeing that many innocent people are also caught in the crossfire, shoots Carlos and then tackles Charles. Tony kills Charles but is hit many times and also dies.
Thomas, Orvil, and Edwin are among the people caught in the crossfire. Thomas dies. Blue takes Edwin to the hospital while Opal, Harvey, and Jacquie take Orvil to the hospital. Both boys are admitted at the emergency room, but their fate is unclear.