Symbols are objects, characters, figures, and colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts. 

The White Guns

To circumvent the security at the Oakland Coliseum, Daniel Gonzalez prints guns on a 3D printer to use in the robbery. Because guns are usually grey or black, their distinctive color associates them with the history of the white violence that the novel documents. At the same time, because they are made by a young Native man, the guns also symbolize how easily people become complicit in systems of oppression.

The Drone

The technology European settlers brought with them to North America was instrumental to the destruction of indigenous tribes, and that technology is symbolized in the novel by the drone Daniel Gonzalez flies over the Coliseum. It attacks Bill Davis and later hovers over the shooting at the powwow, a repetition of the historical massacres mentioned in the book. While Daniel’s facility with technology could indicate an alternate future awaits him, the drone instead is part of his downfall. The drone, like the Drome, is both a blessing and a curse.

Oakland, CA

The action of the novel mainly occurs in Oakland, CA, a city across the bay from San Francisco. Beginning in the nineteenth century, Oakland was a center for transportation; the first transcontinental railroad (1869) ended in Oakland. A place for people on the move, Oakland thus symbolizes the dislocation that Native peoples were forced to endure. In the novel, Oakland’s symbolic importance is established early when Dene Oxendene briefly discusses Oakland with a “white hipster” who quotes (out of context) Gertrude Stein’s remark about the city, “There is no there there.” Dene does not correct the hipster, but his reflection on “this there there” establishes the city as a key symbol and site for ongoing Native efforts to find a “there” of their own.

Two Shoes

Two Shoes is Opal’s teddy bear and, even though at twelve she thinks she is too old to need a stuffed animal, Opal carries Two Shoes to ward off feelings of loneliness during the time her family spends on Alcatraz. Opal eventually abandons Two Shoes on the island, suggesting her childhood is now in the past.

At the same time, Two Shoes also represents the importance of remembering the past rather than leaving it behind. The bear sometimes “talks like an Indian,” saying things like “Creator made me strong to protect you.” When Opal expresses annoyance, Two Shoes tells her the origin story of the teddy bear. It is important, the toy explains, that everyone knows their history, whether stuffed bear or indigenous child. At the end of the novel, Opal thinks about Two Shoes as she waits to learn about Orvil’s fate. She finally understands that the bear’s voice was her own. The symbol’s contradictory meanings of loss and continuation contribute to the ending’s suspense about the outcome.