The chapters in The Night Watchman are un-numbered, but I’ve added numbers to make it easier to reference.
In the author’s note, Erdrich writes that the character of Thomas Wazhashk was based on her grandfather Patrick Gourneau who served as a tribal chairman and night watchman. He also fought against the termination of U.S. recognition of the sovereignty of American Indian tribes.
Chapter 1: Turtle Mountain Jewel Bearing Plant
At midnight, Thomas Wazhashk shows up to his job as the night watchman at the Turtle Mountain Jewel Bearing Plant, near the Turtle Mountain reservation. The plant is the first time there have been manufacturing jobs near the reservation. Thomas does his job reliably and thoroughly, conducting his inspections. Many women from the reservation work at the plant as well since they score well on tests for manual dexterity.
Thomas is named after the muskrat (“wazhashk”), a lowly but hardworking rodent. It is said that “it is a muskrat who had helped remake the earth”, and the book notes that “as it turned out, Thomas was perfectly named”.
Chapter 2: Lard on Bread
Patrice “Pixie” Paranteau, 19, also works at the jewel bearing plant. Pixie wants to be called “Patrice” — which she deems to be a less cutesy name — but everyone calls her Pixie, including Valentine Blue, her best friend.
This morning, Doris Lauder drives her and Valentine to work. Doris is a white girl, who has just started working as a secretary at the plant. There, they are overseen by their boss Mr. Walter Vold. Patrice and Valentine are the youngest ones on the floor. At lunch, Patrice doesn’t have anything proper to eat, so the other women — Curly Jay, Doris, etc. — share some food with her. The work is tiring, causing her fingers to cramp. In the afternoon, they have a fifteen break. Talking is not permitted, but they do it anyway.
After work, Doris drops Patrice off at the path leading to her house, since Patrice doesn’t want her to drive up the path and see the dilapidated state of her family’s home. Patrice lives there with her mother, occasionally her father, and her brother Pokey. Pokey looks up to Patrice because she is the first person in the family to have a “white-people” job, which allows them to be able to buy things, and she knows her mother is grateful for it as well.
At home, her father is there, but promises her mother that he will leave them alone if she gives him a little money.
Meanwhile, her sister Vera had applied to the Placement and Relocation Office and lives in Minneapolis with her new husband. Patrice misses Vera’s “loud and bright” presence in the house.
Chapter 3: The Watcher
With some free time, Thomas pens letters. He writes to request meetings with Senator Milton R. Young and the county commissioner. He also invites Bob Cory, a friend and newspaper columnist, to tour the reservation. He also responds to letters from people with questions about the tribe. Next, he writes to his son Ray for his birthday.
He senses the presence of a little boy in the room, dressed in Thomas’s childhood school uniform from the government boarding school in Fort Totten. He knows it’s just in his head, so Thomas splashes some cold water on his face. Later, he thinks about his education in Fort Totten.
Thomas goes outside to do his rounds. In the sky, Thomas looks for Ikwe Anang, the “woman star”, the presence of which marked the end of his shift. By the time he punches out and gets in his car to head home, Thomas is sleepy. He’s greeted by LaBatte, who works as the evening janitor but also occasionally comes by in daytime to do repairs.
LaBatte also mentions a boy “Roderick” which the book indicates has to do with LaBatte’s superstitions, but it’s not explained yet who or what that is.
Chapter 4: The Skin Tent
Patrice wants to eventually buy a watch. She knows the importance of meeting Doris and Valentine on time so she can get a ride to work. The alternative is walking 13 miles which risks her getting sick, and if she got sick there was no telephone to tell anyone so then she would get fired and “life would go back to zero”. She knows how precarious her life is.
Now that Patrice’s father has agreed to leave, during the week, Patrice’s mother, Zhaanat is on guard for him possibly returning, with an axe in hand.
Zhaanat was raised traditionally Chippewa by her grandparents, and she was taught all the ceremonies and stories. She was not sent to boarding school in order to “guard her knowledge”. While she makes baskets and beadwork to sell, her “real job” was to pass on her knowledge. People came from afar to learn from her.
Meanwhile, Patrice was raised speaking Chippewa and knew her mothers’ songs, but she was also Catholic, spoke English and was the class valedictorian at school.
Chapter 5: Three Men
Moses Montrose, a 65-year-old tribal judge, meets with Thomas at Henry’s Café. They talk about how the door of the trial jail, small shack, is broken and needs to be fixed, but the tribe is broke. The door had been drunkenly kicked out by Eddy Mink.
Moses recently made an arrest and had the guy, Jim Duvalle, sleep in his outhouse instead. Moses fined Jim, but Jim only had a dollar. Moses took the dollar, but ended up giving it to Jim’s wife Leola since he didn’t want Jim’s family to go hungry.
Moses and Thomas are also concerned about a new state bill that’s meant to “emancipate” Indians, but what it really means is that they will no longer recognize Native American sovereignty. When they see Eddy, they tell him he owes the tribe a new door. They also talk about the emancipation bill, and Eddy says he’s considering selling his land for money, though he doesn’t know what he’d do when the money runs out.
Thomas returns home to his farm. He lives in a new government cottage along with his wife Rose, her mother Noko, and any of their children who still live at home. They also have an older house that was bought in 1880, which they now use as storage. Thomas and Rose met when they were sixteen and have now been married 33 years. Thomas’s father, 94, lives down the hill nearby.
Chapter 6: The Boxing Coach
In the community center garage, Lloyd Barnes’s (nicknamed “Hay Stack” because of his blond hair) runs a boxing club for students. Lloyd, a non-Native veteran, had paid for school with loans from the G.I. Bill, which were forgiven when he signed up to work on the reservations. He’d worked on a few and had been at Turtle Mountain for two years now.
Everett “Wood Mountain” Blue graduated last year and had been Barnes’s best math student. Nowadays, Wood still trains at Barnes’s makeshift gym. Today, Barnes teaches the boys the proper way to lift weights and runs them through speed drills. After training, he drops them all off at their homes. Pokey’s house is farthest away and has a long path to the front door, but Barnes insists on driving down the path to catch a glimpse of Pixie.
Barnes then heads backs to the “bachelor’s quarters” a small bungalow, which houses male government employees. Nearby, a two-story building houses the females, and has a communal kitchen, dining hall, recreation area and a small room for Juggie Blue, the caretaker/cook.
Juggie is a talented cook. After Barnes is done eating, she slips him a plate of food to give to Wood Mountain, her son, since Barnes is meeting with him to train privately afterwards. Wood Mountain’s father is Archille “Archie” Iron Bear, “a Sioux man whose grandfather had traveled north with Sitting Bull, on the run after Little Big Horn”.
Chapter 7: Noko
When Thomas wakes from his sleep, he walks into the kitchen to find Rose and Noko there with two of his daughters, plus the babies. Sharlo is a high school senior, and Fee is 11. Noko is napping and wakes up a little disoriented, not recognizing Thomas, who she thinks looks too old to be Thomas. Thomas good-naturedly reassures her that he simply got old.
Thomas gently helps Noko to her bed so she can sleep properly, but as he does Rose says that they really need to buy Noko a nice mattress pad so she doesn’t get bruises from the mattress. Thomas feels a surge of anger when Rose suggests using Thomas’s “car money”, but he lets it go.
Afterwards, he goes with his son Wade to haul drinking water. Wade mentions that Wood Mountain is fighting Joe “Wobble” Wobleszynski next Saturday, and Thomas suggests that they go as a family to watch the fight.
Chapter 8: Water Earth
It’s been five months since Patrice’s family has heard anything from Vera. Zhaanat asks her cousin Gerald, the jiisikid (a tribal spiritual leader), to help find her since that is one of the functions of the jiisikid. Gerald, or rather “the spirit who entered Gerald, would fly down to the Cities in a trance and see what was going on”. Zhaanat sets up a special tent for him to stay in.
That night, Gerald flies for a long time until he finds Vera. He finds her motionless but alive, possibly sleeping. Beside her is a child.
The next day is raining, and Patrice feels grateful to have a ride as Doris drives her to work. Patrice offers once again to chip in for gas, but Doris waves her off. At work, Betty Pye, who reminds Patrice of Vera, is back from sick leave after getting her tonsils out.
On Saturday, Patrice is walking along the road and is offered a ride from Thomas Wazhashk, who is Zhaanat’s “cousin” — though that term is used loosely to cover “a host of relationships”. Thomas takes Patrice to the mercantile/post office. On the way back, Patrice reads Thomas a letter from Betty Pye’s cousin, who has seen Vera. However, she says it seemed like something was wrong with Vera, who had her baby with her and wouldn’t talk to her.
Patrice decides to walk the rest of the way back, thinking of Vera. Zhaanat had been against Vera leaving and had refused to say goodbye when Vera left. When it starts to rain, Patrice takes off her shoes, not wanting to ruin them. When she nears the path to her house, she sees that Mr. Barnes’s vehicle has gotten stuck in a pothole on the way to dropping Pokey off at their home.
Chapter 9: Juggie’s Boy
Thomas and his family arrive in Minot for the fight between Joe Wobble and Wood Mountain. Joe’s family had long encroached upon the land belonging to Wood Mountain’s grandmother by letting their cows graze there. At some point, Wood Mountain’s family stole one of the cows. From there, the resentment between the families of Joe Wobble and Wood Mountain had become entrenched.
Joe is a year older, a seasoned fighter, and he has beaten Wood Mountain once before. As they fight, the tension and excitement in the crowd grows. The Indians from all around support Wood Mountain, though they are outnumbered by the people from the farming communities who support Joe.
Joe appears to have the upper hand, but finally Wood Mountain finds an opportunity to get Joe off guard. However, the timekeeper cheats to help Joe and ends the round too soon. Wood Mountain is rattled by this and eventually loses the fight. Afterwards, Thomas thinks to himself that Wood Mountain has come a long way and is steadily becoming the better fighter between the two.
On the way back, Thomas thinks about Wood Mountain’s father, Archie. They used to train-hop together to join threshing crews during harvesting season. In 1931 in Texas, they’d gotten swept up in one of the many Depression-era raids looking to send Mexican workers back across the border. Despite Thomas being an American citizen and Archie being Canadian, they were sent on a truck to Mexico. After they made their way back, Archie had moved in with Juggie, but he soon died of tuberculosis.
As he drives, Thomas talks to Archie in his thoughts. He tells Archie that he’s worried about stuff going on in Washington.
It’s not stated explicitly, but you can probably assume it’s referring to legislation regarding the tribes (potentially taking away their status and refusing to acknowledge their sovereignty) being possibly passed in Washington.
Chapter 10: Valentine’s Days
At work, Patrice tells her boss she needs to go to Minneapolis to check on her sister Vera. He tells her she only has three days of sick leave. Instead, she could take a week off with no pay, but he wouldn’t guarantee her job if she ended up needing more time. After Patrice tells Valentine about her problem, Valentine offers to give Patrice her own sick days, saying she has ok’ed it with their boss.
Since Patrice’s family doesn’t own any suitcases, she buys some canvas to sew her own traveling bag. At the Relocation office, the woman who works there is Curly Jay’s sister, Deanna. Deanna gives her Vera’s last known address. She also gives her the address of one of Juggie Blue’s daughters, Bernadette Blue, to stay with. Deanna tells her to look up Father Hartigan if she has an emergency.
Finally, Patrice takes out the 106 dollars that she has saved up to take on her trip, and she dresses up “like a white woman” before she departs.
Chapter 11: Pukkons
Outside Thomas’s father’s house, the bushes are filled with pukkons (type of nut). Thomas fills his hat with them as he walks towards the house. He and his father Biboon eat the nuts out in the yard, finding a golden beetle in one of the shells. Thomas then talks to his father about the emancipation bill, which would get rid of all the treaties for all Indians.
Biboon’s family used to be buffalo hunters, traveling across territories to hunt. However they were eventually confined to the reservations, and one difficult winter the “old people starved themselves so that the young people could continue”. Biboon’s family had eventually resorted to farming, but it took years of nearly starving as they figured out what would grow in what soil and in what conditions. Now they had plenty of food, plus occasional government surplus.
Chapter 12: Perfume
When Doris drives Patrice to Rugby where the train station is, Patrice comments that she likes Doris’s perfume, noticing how Doris always smells nice. Doris jokes about her farm life and says it’s “Eau de Better Than Manure”, though it’s actually a scent called Liquid Petals. As they chat, Doris tells Patrice that she’s heard the “boxing coach” (Barnes) likes Patrice.
Doris then asks Patrice her opinion on Bucky Duvalle. Patrice tells her about how Bucky had tried to sexually assault her when she asked him and his friends for a ride one day. Doris admits that her brother was one of the boys. She says that Bucky is interested in Patrice. He’s trying to destroy Patrice’s reputation so nice guys won’t like her and she’ll “be softened up” so he can get her.
Patrice is unsure what to think about all of this. To complicate matters, Bucky is partially disfigured and one of his arms doesn’t work properly, and most people think he was cursed by her and Zhaanat. Patrice wonders whether Bucky believes this, too.
Later, situated on the train, Patrice falls asleep as the train starts to move.
Chapter 13: The Iron
At Thomas’s house, Wade’s friend Martin helps with the farm work of lifting the potatoes. Martin has been living with them, and Rose and Thomas are working on the paperwork for him to stay as a foster child.
In the evening after dinner, Thomas sets an alarm for 11:05 P.M. and goes to sleep. When he awakes, he heads for work. In his briefcase are the papers about the Indian “emancipation” legislation that Moses had given him. He thinks about how its effect would be to “erase” the Indians. The government has always viewed Indians as a problem to be “solved”, which they are now aiming to do by getting rid of them. The Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa was being targeted specifically by the US Congress for emancipation.
Thomas also serves as the chairman of the Turtle Mountain Advisory Committee. For the last seven months as the night watchman, he’d been able to fit his duties in neatly with his schedule at work. Now, he worries that it’s his job as tribal chairman to ensure that the they “remain a problem. To not be solved”.
Chapter 14: The Fruit Crate
One evening after arriving at Pokey’s house to drop him off, Barnes invites himself in, saying he wants to meet Pokey’s parents even though what he really wants is to run into Patrice. Barnes is shocked by the ramshackle state of the house. He also sees that Zhaanat has four fingers on one hand and six on the other, which unnerves him.
Pokey translates a conversation between the two as Zhaanat tells Barnes that she knows the real reason why he came in, and he should know that Patrice isn’t interested in him.
Zhaanat makes a point of telling Barnes that Patrice isn’t interested in him because “he smells bad” even though Patrice never really said that. It makes clear that the fundamental problem is their difference in cultures. Barnes thinks the Natives smell different, just as the Natives think Barnes smells different.
In this chapter you can also see how Barnes exoticizes Patrice in his description of her, even if he is well-meaning. He describes how he associates her with the depictions if Indian maidens on advertisements and logos. Meanwhile, when he actually enters Patrice’s home, he’s unnerved by how they live and the sight of her mother.
Chapter 15: A Seat on the Train
On the train, a man demands that Patrice exchange seats with his wife so they can sit together, but Patrice ignores him. Instead, someone else volunteers, who turns out to be Wood Mountain. He’s headed to Fargo for a fight.
Patrice tells him that he’s going to look for her sister. Wood Mountain warns her that if she can’t locate Vera, she might need to find the seedier elements of the city to see if they know anything. Patrice has no clue what to be looking out for, and Wood Mountain feels concerned for her.
Chapter 16: A Bill
Thomas looks over the termination bill. It taken him until he was 18 to even finish an 8th grade level education because he’d been busy working with his father However, since then, he’d tried to educate himself, but the legalese in the bill is still difficult for him.
Still, he knows it’s not good. The bill refers to the termination of federal supervision over the Turtle Mountain lands, the relocation of the Indians on those lands, and the ending of federal services for Indians.
Thomas calls, Martin Cross, the tribal chairman at Fort Berthold in North Dakota to ask about the bill. Martin tells him that the Arthur V. Watkins is the U.S. Congressman who is spearheading the bill. Martin describes Watkins as “the most powerful man in Congress” and says that he’s a Mormon.
Chapter 17: Who?
The next night at work, Thomas continues reading the bill, thinking how the Indians have survived so much, only to “be destroyed by a collection of tedious words”. Thomas falls asleep, but is awakened by what he thinks is the sound of someone trying to break into the plant.
However, it turns out to be a white owl pecking at the glass of the workshop window. He watches it until it flies off.
In the next chapter, it’s clarified that the white owl is considered a bad omen and a symbol for death. It is therefore an appropriate sighting, considering what the termination bill means for their reservation.
However, later Thomas says that “Owls are good luck for me. Especially the white ones” — so clearly there’s room to interpret what the presence of the owl means. Though, it’s also possible that Thomas was just saying that to make LaBatte (who the comment is directed at) feel better.
Chapter 18: Indian Joke
The next day, Thomas tells Walter Vold about his Snowy Owl sighting. LaBatte is there, too, and while they make jokes about it, LaBatte thinks to himself that the owl forshadows death, and soon. Scared, when he reaches an empty hallways, he says “help me, Roderick”.
Chapter 19: Who?
Thomas is someone who was born on the reservation, grew up there and had “assumed he would die there also”. After the termination bill, it’s not clear what would become of the Indians, who an Indian would be and how they would define themselves in a country that “was trying in every way possible to absorb them”.
Chapter 20: Flags
Thomas thinks back to his days in school. His mother had cried as she cut off his braid — something typically only done when someone had died — before sending him off. However, she knew they would cut it off at the school, so she did it herself so at least she could keep it.
At school, Thomas remembers all the red, white and blue flags everywhere and being instructed to say the pledge.
In order for him to attend schooling, Thomas and his family were subjected to the indignity of having their culture and customs disrespected. This section serves as an illustration of how the government had been chipping away at the Native American identity long before the termination bill was passed.
This gets into a bigger narrative in The Night Watchmen about how the government-run schools for Native Americans were designed to erase these people and their culture, rather than educate them.
Chapter 21: Log Jam 26
Doubting Patrice’s street smarts and survival abilities, before they part ways, Wood Mountain tells Patrice to give him the two addresses she’s planning on going to just in case. She gives him the two addresses she has for Vera, but doesn’t mention anything about visiting Wood Mountain’s half-sister, Bernadette. He then leaves the train at his stop in Fargo.
A lady sitting near Patrice introduces herself as Bitty, and Patrice tells Bitty about her journey to find her sister and her sister’s baby. When the train stops, Bitty gives Patrice a flimsy blanket she has knitted, saying it’s for her sister’s baby.
In Minneapolis, Patrice is directed to a bench to wait for a taxi cab, and the guy who pulls up offers to take her for free. The guy introduces him self as Earl “Freckle Face”, and he drives Patrice to a bar called Log Jam 26. Patrice doesn’t want to go in, but she gets dragged inside. When they ask her name, she makes one up, saying its Doris Barnes.
Earl, along with two other men — Dinky and Jack MalloyHilda Kranz. Jack tells her that Hilda fell ill and couldn’t do it anymore.
Chapter 22: The Wake-Up Shave
At work, Thomas thinks about everything the government has already done to destroy the Native Americans, their identity and their culture. Then, in the last hour of his shift, Thomas gives himself a close shave, ready to greet the dawn.
As Thomas thinks of the struggles of the Native American people against the government, he thinks about Falon and Roderick. He describes seeing them, but it’s in his head. Falon (later revealed to be Thomas’s brother) and Roderick (Thomas’s friend) are both dead. Instead, he he’s simply thinking about their spirits.
Chapter 23: The Old Muskrat
At his father’s house, Thomas asks Biboon how they handled negotiations with the government over their land in the past. Biboon talks about how they all banded together, signed a petition and put up a delegation. Biboon says that Thomas sound band together nearby towns that rely on them for labor and their services as well.
Thomas soon calls a meeting of their advisory committee to discuss the bill, House Concurrent Resolution 108 (the “Termination Bill”). Louis Pipestone agrees to take the petition they’ve come up with around for everyone to sign. From there, the next step will be to send some people to meet with Bureau of Indian Affairs (“BIA”) in Fargo to discuss the bill and its implications.
In order to deal with the government, Thomas turns to his father for guidance, relying on his father’s intergenerational knowledge to try to figure out how to combat this.
His father’s description of the events (how they offered the Indians “scraps”, then took most of those “scraps” and now want to shove them off the edge of it) makes clear that this yet another continuation of the government’s efforts to continue minimizing chipping away at the Native American lands, people and culture.
Chapter 24: The Waterjack
Patrice arrives at her sister’s address, 2214 Bloomington Ave, to find it in a dilapidated state. She sees that the mail is addressed to Vera who appears to not have married her husband since her last name is the same. One of the bills is a “Last Notice” from the electric company. She can hear a dog barking, and she wants to go in, but Jack warns her that he’s familiar with the building and “if you find her there, it won’t be good.”
They go to a second possible address, but there’s no sign of her sister. Instead, Patrice asks Jack to take her to Bernadette Blue’s place. Jack recognizes the name and appears “rattled”. He swears to her that she’s “better off in the dressing room at Log Jam 26”.
Jack tries to explains to Patrice that if her sister was having trouble paying bills she might’ve ended up being forced to stay elsewhere in exchange for “services”, but Patrice doesn’t understand his veiled reference to sex work.
Instead, Patrice reluctantly agrees to work the show at Log Jam 26 that night. They agree to $50 plus tips each night and dinner afterwards. She also demands the key to her dressing room. When it’s all settled, she puts on the skin-tight rubbery ox costume for the show and gets ready to perform.
Chapter 25: Left Hook
In Fargo, Barnes and Wood Mountain are at a restaurant. Barnes hadn’t been able to secure Wood Mountain a fight, so now he has some free time. As they talk, Barnes encourages Wood Mountain to apply for college so he can study and become a teacher. Barnes reminds him that boxing isn’t a “lifetime job”. However, Wood Mountain wants to keep boxing and training.
They also talk about Patrice. Wood Mountain knows about Barnes’s infatuation (as does everyone else), and Barnes is concerned to hear of Pixie being in the city by herself. Afterwards, Wood Mountain goes back to the train station, initially intending to head home. However, he finds himself requesting a ticket to go to Minneapolis and check on Patrice.
Chapter 26: Louis Pipestone
Louis goes to visit the Paranteau household as part of his task to fetch signatures for the petition. He and Zhaanat talk about how the young people will end up moving to the cities if they are forced to relocate.
Later, after fetching some more signatures, he drops by Thomas’s house to give him the documents. They also about how people like Pixie, the “go-getters”, end up leaving the reservation, and Thomas says that’s why it’s important for them to have the plant nearby so those people can get jobs.
As they discuss the termination bill, Thomas wonders if those senators will ever regret how they treated the Indians and consider how they might’ve had something to contribute. Then they laugh at the idea.
Thomas and Louis laugh since they know the idea that the government might value them and see them as an asset is a joke. Based on the way they’ve been treated, it’s clear that the government would never see them as anything other than a problem to be solved.
Chapter 27: Ajax
That night, Thomas admits to Rose that he had a drink that day. Rose threatens to kill him if it ever happens again. He promises he won’t.
Chapter 28: Iron Tulip
After the show, Jack tells Patrice that she was a “sensation”. They discuss how Patrice will be paid the morning after, and in cash, after her shows. The next day, she makes her way back to Bloomington Avenue. She finds the dog that had been barking the day before chained to the wall. She also sees many rooms, each filthy with a blanket and a collar chained to the wall. One of the rooms
She asks the dog to help her find her sister, and the dog says “She died on the end of a chain, like me”.
When Patrice sees the rooms, she initially doesn’t seem to recognize that it’s a place where trafficked women were being held. However, a part of her seems to recognize it when she imagines the dog saying that her sister “died on the end of a chain”.
Jack shows up and she asks him to take her back to the second address, where she knocks on all the doors asking about Vera. In one of the rooms, they find Hilda, the girl who had previously been the waterjack at Log Jam 26. However, the door slams shit when Hilda sees Jack. Jack admits to Patrice that Hilda’s “ticked” at him.
Afterwards, Patrice demands that they go to Bernadette’s place. Bernadette recognizes Patrice and says that Vera left her baby here. Bernadette has a face full of make-up on, but Patrice can see bruises on her face underneath.
Bernadette claims that Vera got mixed in with some bad people and she doesn’t know where she is, but Patrice doesn’t believe her and insists on answers. Bernadette wants Patrice to take the baby, but Patrice tells Bernadette to find out where Vera is. She says she’ll return later for the information and the baby. Jack pulls Patrice to get her to leave.
Chapter 29: Woodland Beauty
Meanwhile, Wood Mountain arrives in Minneapolis and heads for his sister Bernadette’s house. She tells him about seeing Patrice and how she was with Jack, who is over at Log Jam 26. Bernadette describes Jack as a “junkie” and “scum”, though she says he’s not the worse out there.
Wood Mountain asks to stay with her, but Bernadette warns him that Cal might not be happy about him being there, so Wood Mountain decides to stay elsewhere.
It’s not clear if Cal is Bernadette’s partner or husband, but it’s clear from how she describes him that they’re in some type of relationship and that he’s a somewhat violent guy. Presumably, the bruises that Patrice saw on her face are from him.
Patrice tells Wood Mountain that Cal doesn’t believe that he’s her brother, indicating that he has likely expressed jealousy in the past over Wood Mountain’s presence and it shows how dysfunctional their relationship is that he doesn’t believe her. Wood Mountain doesn’t want to deal with a confrontation with Cal, so he decides to stay somewhere else.
Wood Mountain then heads for Log Jam 26, scoping out the place. He books a hotel room at Josen House, the place next door. Just past dinnertime, Wood Mountain goes to Log Jam 26 to eat dinner, watch the show and inquire about Pixie.
The waitress talks about how this place tends to use up the girls who play the waterjack quickly. The first one died and the second one is “on her last legs”, and the “management couldn’t care less”.
When the show starts and Wood Mountain finally recognizes Pixie, he jumps up and starts yelling her name. Some men try to grab him. He fights them off at first, but eventually they’re able to drag him outside.
From Patrice’s perspective, she hadn’t been able to see what was going on outside the glass, merely that there’d been some type of commotion. When she’s done with her shift, the waitress slips her a note and whispers to her that “waterjacks don’t last” because they end up dead, and she advises her to quit while she’s able to. They get interrupted by Freckle Face, who doesn’t seem to want the waitress speaking to Patrice.
Patrice gets Wood Mountain’s note (“It’s me. Wood. Tried to get your attention but the goons ejected me. I am next door at the Grand Fleabag. Find me. 328.”) instructing her to find him. Patrice also thinks about the waitress’s warning and feels imprisoned having Freckle Face outside her door, and she’s determined to leave this place.
For a moment, Patrice seems to contemplate staying when she thinks of how much it “stung to leave behind good money” and how tired she is. However, she gets an image of the room with the chains attached to the walls and the human feces in there, letting her known that what was being kept chained up in that room was likely a human and not a dog. The image jolts her, since it’s a reminder of the dangers lurking in the city that she previous hadn’t contemplated.
Chapter 30: The Average Woman and the Empty Tank
Louis Pipestone continues to pass the petition around, carrying with him at all times to take advantage of any opportunity to get another signature. Meanwhile, the advisory committee is working on typing up the bill so they can reprint it, and they’re putting together a tribal newsletter to help get important information out.
At work, Thomas writes a letter to Senator Milton R. Young and has a lengthy chat with Roderick. They talk about how Roderick once took the fall for LaBatte and did his jail time for him. It had been cold, and Roderick had gotten sick, and Thomas says that “LaBatte thinks it got you then”. However, Roderick says it was a different occasion when he’d become seriously ill and feverish.
Either way, Roderick had ended up in the sanatorium. Roderick says that six others died there, but not him. Thomas gently corrects him, telling him that he’s dead, though Roderick insists it’s not true. Thomas says that LaBatte knows Roderick took his punishment and that “he never wanted you to die for it” and feels guilty over it, but Roderick reassures him he’s not dwelling over it.
Instead, Roderick says that he’s here to help save LaBatte from continuing to do “dumbhead things” like stealing. Roderick warns that LaBatte wants to steal jewels from the plant. Thomas says that it’s locked up, but Roderick tells him that it’s written down somewhere and he’ll find it.
The conversation with Thomas and Roderick ends with Roderick saying “why else would I be here?” and Thomas responding “but you’re not here” — indicating that Thomas knows this conversation is going on in his head. He thinks to himself: “How could it be that someone who was a fiction of his own brain told him something that was true? Because Thomas just knew Roderick was right.”
Roderick is a friend who is now dead, and Thomas is imagining him to keep himself company. Moreover, he’s using this projection of Roderick to voice to himself concerns about LaBatte. LaBatte has a troubled past, is burdened by the guilt of what happened with Roderick and it’s possible he plans to try to rob the manufacturing plant (which houses jewels used in their manufacturing process) that Thomas is responsible for looking after.
That morning when Thomas sees LaBatte, he mentions seeing Roderick and the possibility that LaBatte is planning on stealing jewels from the plant. LaBatte doesn’t deny it. Instead, he says that he had had a “string of bad luck” lately. LaBatte has a job, but he says it doesn’t pay enough to help feed his whole family.
In response, Thomas hands him some money, but tells him to stop stealing. As he leaves, Thomas thinks about how he had been planning on using the money he gave LaBatte to fill his gas tank.
Chapter 31: The Missionaries
Soon, two Mormon missionaries show up to Thomas’s house, introducing themselves as Elder Elnath and Elder Vernon. Thomas asks if they know Arthur V. Watkins (the Mormon congressman responsible for the termination bill), telling them that he’s trying to “terminate us”, but the Mormons simply disagree, preach to him about Joseph Smith (a Mormon prophet), hand him a bible and leave.
This section illustrates the uselessness of what missionaries have to offer Thomas. Thomas and his people are faced with a very real problem of their community and identity being destroyed. Instead, the missionaries can only offer empty words and a bible.
Moreover, this interlude exemplifies how the Native American people were being offered ways to replace or do away with their culture, but not ways to address the problems they were actually facing.
Chapter 32: The Beginning
At his father’s house, Thomas continues his tradition of asking his father to tell the story of their name at the start of every season. Thomas was named after his grandfather, the original Wazhashk in the family, whose name became their family surname.
Biboon tells him how in the beginning the world was covered in water. “The Creator” had all the animals who were the best divers try to find the bottom. They were all unsuccessful. The last was the water rat (the Wazhashk), who dived down and grabbed a handful of dirt. The Wazhashk drowned in the process, but when its body floated up, from that dirt in its hand, the Creator was able to make the earth.
Afterwards, Biboon talks about how he might not survive that winter, but Thomas insists he needs his help to fight the termination bill.
Chapter 33: The Temple Beggar
After taking off her suit, Patrice notices a distinct blue-ish tint to her skin from the suit and there’s a chemical smell from the pest-powder she’d been instructed to apply to the inside of it.
Collectively, the implication of this and the waitress’s warnings is that the suit is likely seeping poison into the people who wear it, which is what caused the previous waterjacks to get sick and/or die.
She waits until dark to leave, knowing Freckle Face would be asleep. She exits to find Jack there instead, but he’s clearly on drugs and barely able to function. She then slips out and goes to find Wood Mountain in his hotel room. There, she tells him that she knows they took Vera. They agree to fetch the baby from Bernadette and then get away from this place.
After a few hours of sleep, they head out. Before they go, she spots Jack — barely alive — in the alley, and she informs the night attendant who assures her that they’ll take care of him. They soon arrive at Bernadette’s place. She’s relieved that Cal isn’t there to find them there. After Bernadette gives them the baby, they get back on the train headed home.
On the train, Patrice is uncomfortable with the idea that people are likely assuming that she and he are a couple with a baby. Meanwhile, Wood Mountain thinks about how he’d overhead Bernadette saying something when they were picking up the baby, but doesn’t want to say anything to Patrice about it until he knows for sure what Bernadette had meant by it.
Patrice is uncomfortable with the idea of herself as a married woman with a child. She wants to let people know that she’s a working woman with a job. It’s clear that she views marriage and motherhood as a dead end for women in life — perhaps because that’s the only example that what she’s seen — and that she wants something more for herself.
Chapter 34: Wild Rooster
Meanwhile, Thomas, Louis and another car full of people head for Fargo so they can attend a meeting to register their opposition to the Termination Bill. There’s no money to pay for accommodations, so they all stay with various people that they know.
Chapter 35: Arthur V. Watkins
Arthur V. Watkins’s father had, in 1906, settled on lands belonging to the Uintah and Ouray Reservation in Utah. In total during that time, 13.8 million acres that had previously been guaranteed to the reservations were taken from them. Arthur V. Watkins grew up on some of these stolen lands.
The book narrates how the early Mormons “had tried their best to murder all Indians in their path across the country”. Then, when Watkins became a U.S. Senator, he worked to “use the power of his office” to finish what those early Mormons had started, and “he didn’t even have to get his hand bloody”.
Chapter 36: Cool Fine
After the train ride, as they toward Patrice’s home, Wood Mountain suggests “Archille” (after his father) as a name for the baby. Patrice agrees.
As they walk, Wood Mountain seems to feel certain emotions towards her, and Patrice considers that Wood Mountain might make a good partner. Still, she finds herself trying to discourage him, similar to her attitude with Barnes. However, she admits to herself, she’s more tempted not to discourage him when it comes to Wood Mountain.
While Patrice is attracted to Wood Mountain and knows he could make a good partner, she discourages him because she knows what she wants is to work and have a job, as opposed to get married and have kids. She knows that to fall in love and get married is “the way of things”, but she also knows it’s not what she wants.
Patrice thinks about her mother and how white people might look at Zhaanat and think that she was “dull” and “stubborn”. However, Patrice knows that her mother understands and knows things others do not and things “she should not have known”, such as “where a vanished man had fallen through the ice” or “why disease struck a young man and skipped his frail grandfather”.
When she gets home, she tells her mother that she didn’t find Vera, but brought the baby home. Her mother starts nursing the baby. Patrice looks uneasy, but her mother reassures her that “in the old days” the older women would take over nursing if the mother couldn’t.
Chapter 37: The Torus
The next morning, Patrice is relieved to see that Doris and Valentine have not forgotten about her as they pick her up for work. As the day continues, everyone promises to give her all manner of baby supplies like diapers and bottles — “everything a baby needed, except a mother”.
Chapter 38: Metal Blinds
At the meeting in Fargo, Thomas and the other tribal members sit down. The area director, John Cooper, notes the meeting date and time on October 19, 1953 at 1:00 P.M. The lawyer, Gary Holmes, then reads the entirety of the Termination Bill, which he describes as intended to “terminate all federal recognition and support at the Turtle Mountain Agency”.
Afterwards, they answer questions. Holmes claims that their treatment will now be “equal” to whites, though the tribal members point out that they are taking away their land. Homes claims that they are being “relocated to areas of equal opportunity”.
The tribal members then point out that their non-Indian neighbors aren’t being forced to move and have taken much of their best land, a claim Cooper is entirely dismissive of.
Eddy Mink points out that the government is reneging on agreements with the Indians that were supposed to last in perpetuity, which granted the United States use of lands. He likens the services that the government is supposed to provide to “rent” in exchange for the “use of the entire country of the United States”.
They then take a vote, noting that all 47 people in attendance in the meeting are against the bill, and the meeting is adjourned. Afterwards, Thomas fights the urge to drink, knowing things look bleak for them.
Despite the fact that they’ve all spoken up and voted against the bill, it’s clear to Thomas and the other tribal members that the government representatives aren’t interested in their opinions or support. Their attitude makes it clear that the intention is to push this through regardless.
After dinner, Thomas sees Paranteau (Patrice’s father) outside, stumbling around clearly drunk and clinging to a lamppost. He drunkenly reminisces about what a great basketball player he once was, talking about his old nickname, Pogo Paranteau. Thomas tries to coax him into going home, but he runs off. Thomas decides to let it go, knowing that having him home would put a strain on the rest of the Paranteau family.
Chapter 39: X = ?
At the gym, Barnes is furious after finding out that Wood Mountain ended up going down to find Patrice, thinking that Wood Mountain wanted her for himself. Wood Mountain tells him that he was merely concerned that she could’ve gotten into trouble and adds that she doesn’t seem interested in him either. Later, Barnes finds himself wondering how he measures up against Wood Mountain in her mind and whether not being Indian is a plus or minus.
Meanwhile, Wood Mountain takes Pokey home after practice and lets him ride on his back. He hopes that Pixie will come out and see it, but she doesn’t. Instead, Zhaanat is there with the baby, who recognizes him. He ends up coming inside and helping out with the baby for a while.
Elsewhere, Barnes and Thomas talk about the Termination Bill. Barnes asks Thomas why he’s opposed to the idea of becoming a “regular American”. Thomas explains how it’s like for them to be kicked off their land and told they need to speak a different language and act differently. Thomas also explains that their land will be broken up, and they’ll end up having to live in the cities, which they don’t want.
Barnes then asks, thinking of Pixie, if he could be considered an Indian if he married an Indian woman. Thomas gently tells him no (thinking internally that this identity was not “just another thing for a white man to acquire), but he says that they could like him despite that.
Barnes thinks about how he can get Patrice to like him, and thinks that he might give Pokey a gift.
Chapter 40: Twin Dreams
After a week of the baby trying to nurse, Zhaanat’s body begins producing milk. Meanwhile, Patrice uses her waterjack money to help fix up the house.
Pokey is given a bunch of boxing magazines and a winter jacket from Barnes. (It’s also implied that Pokey also has a new pair of boots from Barnes, though he doesn’t tell Patrice.) Patrice warns Pokey not to tell others where he got it from or accept other gifts from Barnes, knowing other kids will make fun of him for it.
Patrice is haunted by thoughts of Vera and what may have happened to her. She imagines “Vera’s twisted gaping face and blood-choked mouth” or she imagines that Vera had visited her at Log Jam 26 but she couldn’t see her. Patrice tells her mother about these thoughts, and her mother says that ideally they’d go to Gerald for help — because she senses that Vera is trying to reach them — but Gerald is tied up with various ceremonies right now.
Chapter 41: The Star Powwow
Patrice, Rose and the baby go to Thomas’s house to see him. Thomas updates them on the situation on the Termination Bill. He’s written to Milton Young again, as well as two other congressmen. Louis is also trying to convince the American Legion to oppose the bill. Thomas is also meeting with the superintendent of the local school district to talk about how the bill will affect the school’s funding.
Patrice tells Thomas about her search for Vera and how it had ended at the building with the dog and the rooms with the chains attached to the walls. Thomas suggests contacting the police, but Zhaanat feels sure the police will not help them.
On his way to work, Thomas is filled with dread both regarding the Termination Bill and the thought of the level of evil that Patrice had described. At work, he sees the owl again and thinks he hears a pounding sound. He runs out of the building as a result and ends up getting locked out.
Thomas thinks of the one time he’d had to break into a building in the past — it was to help Roderick (presumably doing his punishment), who he’d given some food and a coat to. Thomas thinks about how Roderick had been sobbing when he left him.
In present day, Thomas tries to figure out how to get back in. He still hears the pounding, but the owl is nowhere to be seen. He finds a wire he thinks he can use to get back in.
As the drumming intensifies (this part is a imagined part or vision of some sort), he sees that above him there are beings floating downward from the skies, one of whom is Jesus Christ. They nod at him encouragingly and want him to dance. As he does, they join in.
Afterwards, Thomas uses the wire to get back into the building.
Regarding the drumming and dancing, Thomas starts this scene out at a low moment, feeling overwhelmed by his worries about the Termination Bill and what he’s learned about Vera. At work, he sees the owl. While that is a bad omen for many, in a previous chapter, Thomas says that it had actually always been a good omen for him.
It’s followed by the drumming noise, which is a manifestation of some sort. It turns into a spiritual moment for Thomas, as he imagines the stars/spirits above him dancing and him dancing with them, turning into a powwow. (The inclusion of Jesus Christ along with his other spiritual guides shows how the influence of Christianity has become a part of him, too.) It’s a moment for him to draw strength and resilience from his spirituality and from those who came before him (the stars/spirits).
Chapter 42: Agony Would Be Her Name
Though not stated explicitly, this scene is likely from Vera’s perspective. She’s thinking about the smell of men on her and her desire to get away. She feels like a piece of “raw flesh” and feels agony. (The story has hinted at it so far, but it will be more explicit later that she’s being sexually trafficked.)
She also hears her mother calling her, because back at home they are trying to reach her.
Chapter 43: Homecoming
At the Wazhashk home, they are hard at work preparing loading up vegetables and unloading them around town. Tomorrow is the parade, football game and crowning of the Homecoming court, where there’s a meal prepared for the whole community as well. Sharlo is on the Homecoming Court and Rose is making her dress. Meanwhile, Thomas puzzles over his experience dancing under the stars and thinks about the feeling of peace he’s had since then. He also wonders if he should pay a visit to the church, considering he had a vision of Jesus Christ.
On Saturday, the events of the day are in full force. At the parade, Vernon and Elnath (the missionaries) are there. Betty and Patrice gossip about how Grace Pipestone (Louis’s 16-year-old daughter) is trying to convert one of them to Catholicism. Valentine pipes in that she thinks Wood Mountain is interested in Grace.
At the crowning, Calbert St. Pierre and Sharlo are named Homecoming King and Queen. Thomas thinks of Sharlo as a little girl. Patrice recalls her own crowning as Homecoming Queen and how she’d reveled at the idea that people now saw her differently than when they called her “dirty” and a “squaw” as a young girl.
As Patrice thinks back to her own memories of being Homecoming Queen, it dredges up a lot of past resentment over being treated poorly by the kids at school. In that moment, she had wanted them to bow down to her and to be able to rub her triumph in their faces. Even in present day, she thinks bitterly about how Valentine is unreliable as a friend (despite Valentine having just recently given her all her sick days at work), indicating that Patrice still has not let go over her resentment over feeling slighted by others.
As the parade proceeds, a trumpet blare causes one of the horses, Gringo, to lunge at Grace’s horse, Teacher’s Pet. As Grace tries to remove her horse from the situation, Barnes notices that the horse is in heat. He tells at Grace to get off the horse.
In an attempt to get her horse away from others, Grace uses her spurs which causes the horse to bolt. As it heads past the schoolyard swing set, Gringo (a stallion) runs after Teacher’s Pet (a mare) and right into the swings, nearly strangling itself. The horses end up being okay and run off together.
Later that night, there is a dance. Barnes finds himself nearly in tears when he realizes Patrice isn’t there, and he wonders what’s wrong with him. Instead, he asks Valentine to dance. Afterwards, she invites him to a bush dance.
Chapter 44: The Bush Dance
Meanwhile, the horses mate and go looking for food. When Gringo accidentally knocks into Teacher’s Pet it irritates her and she kicks him.
Chapter 45: Hay Stack
The morning after the bush dance, Barnes goes to the Catholic church nearby, despite not being Catholic. He thinks about how he drunkenly fooled around with both Doris and Valentine at the party. He feels somewhat promiscuous being interested in three women at the same time who are all friends. Seeing a statue of Mary, he feels her disapproving eyes on him.
Mary’s “disapproval” of Barnes is a manifestation of him feeling somewhat guilty over the situation with him and the three women. As he compares the three women, it makes it clear that part of his attraction to Patrice and Valentine is rooted in their “exotic” status.
Thomas happens to be at the church as well (because of his recent encounter with Jesus Christ) and finds Barnes in the pews. He tells Barnes that they’re trying to raise funds to send a delegation regarding the Termination Bill. Thomas suggests organizing another fight between Wood Mountain and Joe Wobble to help raise money, and Barnes agrees to help.
Later that week, Barnes runs into Joe Wobble in a restaurant and pitches the idea to him. He says that all the proceeds are going towards helping to send a delegation to Washington. Joe is not Indian, but Barnes makes the point that there are Indians who work on his farm and they’ll be relocated if this bill goes through. Barnes also notes that Joe’s left shoulder seems to droop a little.
At training, Barnes tells Wood Mountain about Joe’s possibly injured shoulder. Wood Mountain suggests it could be a fake-out. That comment prompts him to tell Wood Mountain to wear a fake plaster cast on his right hand for a few weeks.
Chapter 46: Thwack
At the Paranteau home, Wood Mountain is helping out with the baby and finds himself attracted to Patrice as she chops wood, which frustrates him. Barnes’s uncle also arrives to give some training advice to Wood Mountain.
Chapter 47: The Tonsils
Following Homecoming and the bush dance, Patrice feels like Valentine and Doris have some type of secret shared experience that she doesn’t know about. When Valentine and Doris finally tell her about them each kissing Barnes, Patrice lies and tells them that she already knew.
While Patrice tells herself that she doesn’t care about Doris and Valentine’s secret, it’s clear that another part of her resents feeling left out. She might not care about what the secret itself is, but it doesn’t keep her from wanting to be in the loop and to feel like she’s part of the group.
When they do finally tell her, Patrice tells herself she’s not jealous, but the fact that she wanted to one-up them by saying she already knew indicates that there’s probably a part of her that feels some type of jealousy, even if she’s not interested in him.
At work, Patrice finds herself sizing up her friendships. She thinks about the favor that Valentine had done for her in giving up her sick days. She also considers how she also likes Betty Pye. However, Betty recently made the faux pas of bringing her tonsils to work (in a jar) to show people after having them removed, which grossed everyone out.
That same day, their boss had announced that the higher-ups were soon coming to inspect things, and so for the time being they couldn’t have their afternoon coffee breaks.
At home, Patrice sees that Wood Mountain is visiting the baby again. The baby seems to like him and smiles at him. Wood Mountain notes that the baby needs a proper cradle board (a baby carrier), and he offers to help make one, which is a big deal since that’s something the father would typically do. When Patrice says that she’ll cut one of their blankets in half for the cradle board (since they each only have one blanket), she feels defensive about how it displays how poor her family is.
Wood Mountain and Patrice also talk about Vera. Patrice says she keeps having visions of her and wants to go back to find her, but she doesn’t know where to start. Wood Mountain finally tells Patrice what he’d overhead Bernadette say when they were there — he thinks she said either ‘she’s in the wood’ or ‘she’s in the wall’ or ‘She’s in the hold.’ — but he doesn’t know for sure what it means. He thinks it could refer to a ship’s hold.
Patrice doesn’t think it makes sense because ships are filled with men. Wood Mountain tells her that’s why Vera would be there. (Patrice is confused at first since she doesn’t consider the possibility that her sister could be used for sex, but Wood Mountain is less innocent than Patrice and has to point it out to her.)
Chapter 48: A Letter to the University of Minnesota
Thomas writes to Millie Ann Cloud, Louis Pipestone’s daughter who is in college and who recently conducted a study of the economic conditions at the reservation. He asks if she’s willing to testify as part of their delegation before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.
Chapter 49: The Chippewa Scholar
At the University of Minnesota, Millie Cloud has been attending school while working two jobs. She thinks she may want to be a lawyer someday. She’d been primarily raised by her mother in Minneapolis, and only occasionally saw her father. Her visit to the reservation was part of the master’s thesis.
Today her room is cold and she warms herself with her electric heater and some tea while she prepares some food. Then she opens her letters to find the one from Thomas. She doesn’t think that termination will affect her, but she likes the idea that her research could be useful to her father and his people.
Chapter 50: What She Needed
Elsewhere, Vera has been “sick for as long as she could remember”. Day and night, she’s used for sex. She goes into withdrawal when the cook’s assistant siphons away the drugs she’s addicted to, causing her to foam and shit herself. Finally, the men leave her for dead in an alley in Duluth.
Chapter 51: Old Man Winter
At home, Biboon contemplates his last days, knowing his end is coming soon. Tucked up in bed next to the stove, he sees (or imagines he sees) a circle of “silvery women dancing in an icy field” and that one of them is Julia (his deceased wife). He tells Julia “I’ll see you soon”.
As he thinks about time, he thinks about how “all things happened at once” and sees time as a “holy element” that other things fly “back and forth, up and down” through.
Chapter 52: The Cradle Board
In preparation for the upcoming fight, Wood Mountain and Barnes train in secret since Wood Mountain isn’t supposed to be seen without his cast. To others, Wood Mountain claims he hurt his hand thanks to Gringo, the horse.
Grace teases Wood Mountain for faking his injury, saying that Joe Wobble is definitely doing the same. She says “sometimes he forgets which side he’s crooked on”. When Grace asks him about the cradleboard he’s making, she teases him about liking Pixie. Grace feels bad for him, knowing that he likes Pixie more than he realizes, and Grace feels bad for herself, knowing Wood Mountain’s not interested in her. She notices that a storm is coming, but decides not to tell him.
Chapter 53: Battle Royale
Thomas decides to name the match between the two the Battle Royale Benefit, and he has a flyer made up about it. As he goes to sleep, his head is filled with images of Roderick, and he wonders if these thoughts will ever stop.
He thinks of seeing Roderick, half head. He remembers waking Roderick up to see his skin was gray and his sheets bloody. He also remembers teasing Roderick, getting him in trouble and watching as LaBatte blamed him.
Thomas feels guilt over the fact that he didn’t do more to save Roderick. At this point in the book, it’s still not clear what exactly happened to Roderick, though it’s becoming apparent that Thomas had some type of involvement in the events that led to Roderick’s death.
When Thomas has some time, he pulls out The Book of Mormons which the Mormons had left him. He starts to read it in an attempt to understand Arthur V. Watkins. Thomas knows how important understanding who you’re dealing with is, because that’s how he convinced them to locate the jewel plan near the reservation.
After a lot of reading, Thomas writes in his notes that Watkins likely dresses plainly and prefers that women do the same. He also notes that Watkins will probably be quite righteous. Thomas then strategizes that the only way to “fight the righteous was to present an argument that would make giving him what he wanted seem the only righteous thing to do”.
Chapter 54: Two-Day Journey
No longer on the ship, Vera is unsure if she’s dead or alive. She thinks of the journey that the soul takes after death, and she sets out walking on a dark and lonely road. Soon she comes across a Highway.
Vera seems to be walking in a bit of a daze after waking up in the alley. She considers that “she had been dead way back when she’d been alive” because her existence on the ship had felt like death. Seeing the Highway and the sign saying “Firewood for Sale” she realizes she’s probably alive and not in the afterworld.
Chapter 55: Boxing for Sovereignty
At the boxing match, there’s a large crowd. By now, everyone knows both parties had been faking their injuries. When the main event rolls around, they each come out comically sporting injuries to entertain the crowd.
The first few rounds are fun and exciting, but by the sixth round, they start getting real injuries, and there are cries from the crowd to stop the fight. Things get ugly. Eventually, Wood Mountain wins, but both of them are a mess by that time. Neither of them box again after that.
Chapter 56: The Promotion
Valentine gets promoted, and Patrice is left feeling jealous since she feels she’s better at the job than Valentine. She also misses working next to Valentine, while also dreads seeing her at lunch and hearing about her great new job and raise.
At lunch, Doris and Valentine gossip about their love interests. Doris mentions that she might be going out with Barnes to the movies. Patrice tells Doris that she’s happy for her, though without much enthusiasm. Later, she talks to Betty who chats about her beau Norbert and the possibility of getting pregnant, and Patrice finds herself wishing Betty were sitting next to her instead.
At home, she sees that Thomas is visiting. He has news that Vera was “taken in for vagrancy and released”. Zhaanat confirms that she’s seen Vera in her dreams, but lately they’ve stopped. Patrice agrees.
Thomas also updates them on the boxing match, which he said raised more than half of the money they needed for the Washington trip. He also tells about Millie Cloud and her study about their reservation. Part of Congress’s argument is that the reservations are doing so well that they should no longer be supported by the government, but he’s hoping her study will have the data to disprove that notion.
Patrice feels impressed thinking about Millie and the possibility of going to college and doing research. But then she thinks about how her family is struggling and how she needs to help them financially right now (“she thought of herself as that little hide tent, stretch so thin”).
The next day, Betty is assigned to the workstation next to Patrice. Patrice asks her how getting pregnant works, and Betty is shocked that Patrice has never had sex before. Betty offers to grab coffee with her and explain it to her.
On Saturday, they meet up at Henry’s. Betty explains what an erection is, about condoms, etc. As they’re talking, Betty notices Barnes there and says hi, and Patrice wonders if he overheard anything. When he’s gone, Betty also mentions that men sometimes go to the cities and pay for sex. Other men will promise to marry them, but sell them to a pimp to be used for sex.
What Betty is describing is likely what happened to Vera (being promised marriage, but being sold off instead). As Betty says this, Patrice realizes that Jack likely wanted to pimp her (Patrice) out as well. She realizes he likely would have sexually assaulted her at some point and made her feel ashamed of herself to the point where she no longer felt like herself.
Chapter 57: Edith, Psychic Dog
Harry Roy, a retired army medic, finds Vera sleeping by the side of the road. He knows a hospital will just throw her out after she’s warmed up a bit, so instead he brings her home. His dog, Edith, perks up as he arrives, knowing there’s someone else present. From the way he handles Vera, Edith also recognizes that she should help guard the woman.
When Vera wakes, Harry feeds her soup and bread, and he lets her use the bathroom to take a hot bath. Edith recognizes that Vera has been through a lot and stays near her. Edith sees that Vera is jumpy, but for reasons having nothing to do with her or Harry. Sometimes, Vera had bad dreams, but there was nothing Harry or Edith could do about it.
Chapter 58: The Hungry Man
Millie wakes to find the room unusually cold as she goes out to meet Thomas and her father in Rugby. In her suitcase is the only copy of her report so she guards it carefully. They sleep in the station for the night, and in the morning they get breakfast and talk about Millie’s report.
Chapter 59: Good News Bad News
Millie’s report contains both good news and bad news in Thomas’s eyes. The good news is that it confirms what he thought, that they are poor enough to warrant governmental support and that the local government and neighboring towns do not want responsibility for them.
At the same time, Thomas is distressed by the report since it makes clear to him how poor, illiterate, and disliked by their neighbors they are. It also brings up how when they were hit by a scourge of tuberculosis, many of the parents died so their children were raised in boarding schools.
Chapter 60: Flying over Snow
At work, Patrice decides to follow Betty’s advice and try having sex with someone. She settled on Wood Mountain because he will be less likely to “stick” to her than someone like Barnes. However, she thinks that the outdoors sounds like the best place to try it out, but it’s snowing too hard right now, so her plan will have to wait until the spring.
In the car on the way back, Doris and Valentine tease each other and laugh in the front seats. Meanwhile, Patrice is lost in thoughts about whether her she and her family will be warm enough. She also thinks about Wood Mountain and her feelings towards him. She’s attracted to him and appreciates how much he cares for the baby.
Patrice also wonders about Juggie’s car, which Bernadette Blue had bought for her. She wonders how Bernie makes her money, and surmises it must be “bad ways, for sure”. She wonders if it had to do with sex things or drugs or even something associated with what happened to Vera.
On her day off, Patrice goes outside in the snow, wandering around and appreciating the beauty of it all. She ends up stepping onto some snow that gives way into a ravine filled with leaves. She falls asleep on the leaves, despite sensing that there might be a bear hibernating nearby. When she wakes, she has “a tingling sense that something good had happened and might happen”.
When Patrice gets home, Zhaanat says she senses that Patrice’s father is going to arrive home soon. Patrice gets the axe and tells her mother she’ll “be the night watchman” and keep watch for him.
This section makes more sense after you read the next chapter.
Chapter 61: Snares
The next day, Patrice and Pokey set up snares outside and go to check on the snares she had set up yesterday near Vera’s cabin. In the cabin, Pokey peeks in to see someone sleeping inside, curled up in a blanket by the stove.
They soon call for Thomas to check inside the cabin. The person sleeping inside turns out to be Patrice and Pokey’s father, who is dead. Zhaanat — thinking of how he’d been violent with Pokey and the many times he’d come home drunk — tries to hide the relief she feels, knowing he is finally dead. Pokey feels emotional afterwards, unsure if it’s because he had loved his father or because he feels he should have loved his father.
The next morning, Doris comes by to pick Patrice up for work and finds Valentine sitting in the backseat (where Patrice normally sits), since Doris and Valentine have clearly had some type of argument. Patrice sees how sad Valentine looks, reminds them they are best friends and orders Valentine to move to the front.
Patrice feels oddly hopeful, thinking that “anything could happen now” and wonders if it’s because her father is finally out of the picture. That day at work, she doesn’t tell anyone about her father’s death because she knows she won’t be able to pretend to feel sorrow over it.
These two chapters about Patrice sleeping in a cave and learning about her father’s death can probably be interpreted in a variety of ways. My take: Patrice sleeping in a cave with a bear is similar to how her whole life has been with her father and his drinking — there’s always a chance of something bad happening, lurking nearby.
She feels hopeful and doesn’t know why because her father has finally died. With her father dead, that weight (of having something bad constantly lurking around the corner) has been lifted off her shoulders.
Patrice in the past has directed somewhat negative and derogatory thoughts towards Valentine and Doris. But now that she is feeling less stressed and more hopeful, she seems to feel more kindly and caring about them. She feels bad about Valentine being hurt about her fight with Doris and thinks to herself that Valentine looks nice in her coat (as opposed to feeling jealous like she has in the past).
Chapter 62: Cradle to Grave
In Louie’s barn filled with tools, Thomas works on a grave house for Patrice’s father while Wood Mountain finishes up the cradle board. Thomas suggests to Wood Mountain that they shouldn’t tell Zhaanat about working on these two things at the same time, feeling superstitious about it. Wood Mountain offers to douse the cradle board in sage smoke for that reason.
As they work, they talk about the people and creatures who once lived on this land before them, or even when these lands were once covered in ocean. Wood Mountain feels peaceful thinking about their connection to those who came before them and he feels they are always with him.
This section deals with Thomas and Wood Mountain’s superstitions, but also their very genuine respect for and connection to the land they live on. Their connection to that land and their thoughts about other who have lived on it give them a sense of perspective that is comforting.
Chapter 63: The Night Watch
Patrice returns home to see that Zhaanat ended up going after the bear herself after Patrice told her about it. She sees that Zhaanat has hung its body up on a tree near their house and is skinning it with Thomas’s help as they sing to it. In addition to its parts being useful for various medicines, a hibernating bear’s meat is sweet and mild.
Inside, there are a number of people around, including one she doesn’t recognize, who turns out to be Millie Cloud. Patrice and Millie meet, and Patrice remembers that she wants to ask Millie about how to apply for college.
That night, Patrice sits with the men around the fire as they reminisce about her father’s basketball days. Meanwhile, work continues on the grave house with the men digging into the ground with pickaxes and shovels. It continues all the next day, and that night Patrice notices someone or something “slipping through the trees”.
The men finally finish the grave, leaving Patrice alone at the fire deep into the night. She feels the pitiful and longing presence of her father, wanting something. She feels him wanting to take her with him. When he comes at her, she screams at him “you can’t get us! you can’t get us now!” Zhaanat then comes holding a bowl of hot bear meat soup.
Patrice feels the presence of her father, whether real or imagined, but she resists him and resists his negative influence.
The next morning, Wood Mountain brings the completed grave house to the grave, so they can have the burial. Many families around town arrive for the occasion.
Bucky shows up, having difficulty walking. Part of his face also droops. He has brought back the shoes he’d taken from Patrice (the day that he’d assaulted her). He asks Zhaanat to take them from him, but Zhaanat tells him that his own actions “put that on you”. Afterwards, Patrice thinks that he is helpless now, but “if he gets his strength back, he will hurt us”.
Earlier in the book, we learned that Bucky once assaulted Patrice and now he is disfigured, which people think was is because Patrice and Zhaanat cursed him. Bucky’s condition now seems to have worsened.
Bucky shows up to ask them to take back the shoes he took from Patrice, which seems to symbolize them forgiving him and taking back their “curse”. But Zhaanat refuses to forgive him, and Bucky collapses on the floor.
In an interview, Erdrich states she she purposely writes it so that you can interpret Bucky’s condition as either some type of curse due to his actions or to a possible medical condition (like Ball’s palsy). Assuming it’s a medical condition, it just happened to materialize soon after Patrice’s assault and is continuing to get worse. So, taking back the shoes probably wouldn’t change his condition. Still, Zhaanat makes it clear that he is not forgiven either.
Later, Gerald instructs the body of Patrice’s father on what to “look for and what to do when he arrived on the other side”. Finally, they lower him into the ground.
Chapter 64: Two Months
(This section covers the following two months for a number of characters.)
Thomas. The hearings for the bill are set for two months out, in the first week of March. But he finds himself having trouble concentrating on his advocacy work because he’s scared and worrying about what will happen if the bill passes.
Millie. Millie is staying at the Pipstone house and sharing Grace Pipestone’s room. After the Paranteau funeral, she writes up notes on it since she’s never been to something like that before.
Barnes. Barnes takes out a record player his uncle gifted to him and listens to it while thinking about the three women he’s interested in/
Juggie. Juggie worries about Wood Mountain after seeing him all banged up after his fight.
Betty Pye. Betty is having sex with Norbert in his car when she sees a face in the window outside. She thinks she recognizes the face, but can’t remember exactly who it is.
Louis. Louis remains dedicated to getting every signature of every person living on the reservation.
Patrice. Patrice starts having problems with her eyes, a burning sensation, and she’s not sure if it’s a result of concentrating too hard at work. Zhaanat uses a tea on them that helps, but the burning feeling keeps coming back.
Vera. One afternoon, Harry proposes to Vera. Vera accepts the ring, and he says that he understands they won’t be having sex for a long time. Still, one day Vera thinks that he’s pleasuring himself and gets mad at him, but it turns out he was just shaking up a bottle of milk to drink.
Vera doesn’t want to be touched because of everything she has experienced, and Harry understands that. But despite Harry’s kind and patient treatment of her, Vera is still very traumatized by per past and is overly defensive and on guard.
LaBatte. LaBatte has resolved to stop stealing, but people continue to ask him to get them stuff. He also sees Patrice and notices that there’s something wrong with her eyes and assumes she has some type of jinx on her.
Chapter 65: New Year’s Soup
When Patrice’s eyes are still not better, Wood Mountain suggests that she go to see the nurse in town. By now, Wood Mountain is still training, but his mother no longer wants him fighting due to his severe injuries from his previous fight. He offers to ride with Patrice into town.
At the nurse’s office, the woman gives her some medicine, saying if she’d waited too long she could’ve gone blind. She also comments that her eye issue was likely caused by lack of proper hygiene. Finally, the nurse tells Patrice to return to see the eye doctor when he’s available.
As they head back, Wood Mountain kisses Patrice, but she gets on her horse and rides off. He proposes, but she doesn’t say anything in response.
Later, Patrice thinks about how she had wanted to say yes. However, at homed she starts thinking about the married women she knows and how they spent their time caring for children and washing and drying clothes all the time.
She also thinks about the advice her mother had told her, that “you never really knew a man until you told him you didn’t love him”, and she thinks about how it had been true when it came to Bucky.
Chapter 66: The Names
Zhaanat believes that “things started going wrong” when places started to be named after people instead of the things that happened in those places. There was incongruity between the “timeless of the earth” and the short lifespan of mortals which caused “a rift in the life” of these places that caused less animals to come around and less plants to grow.
This section is another short but potent example of the respect for the timelessness of earth (over things like ego and arrogance) in the mindset of these characters.
This focus on timelessness can also be seen in Chapters 62 (about Wood Mountain and Thomas working on the cradle and grave) and in Chapter 51 (as Biboon contemplates his death and the concept of time).
Chapter 67: Elnath and Vernon
While missionary rules dictate they share a room, by now Elnath and Vernon are sick of each other. Elnath feels longing to the point of tears when Milda Hanson offers them separate rooms in her farmhouse. However, they decline and stay in one of her rooms that has two beds that are at least across the room from one another, which is a respite in and of itself.
That night, Elnath thinks about how Louis Pipestone had told them that they had their own religion here, and he had laughed thinking it was a joke. But Louis had seemed completely serious.
In bed, Elnath debates whether to report Vernon who had excused himself from them many times while they were at the Pipestone house (since the two are not supposed to leave each other’s company, except from bathroom breaks). And Elnath had seen that Vernon had been in the barn, not the outhouse. Elnath knows it likely has to do with a girl they’d met at the parade.
Elnath know that Vernon would tell on him if the situation was reversed, but he also thinks about how Vernon’s standing in the community would be damaged, possibly for life if he told on him. A thought occurs to him to “talk to Vernon about it” but it seems so contrary to what he’s been taught.
Chapter 68: Night Bird
Patrice thinks back to Bucky’s assault. They’d been schoolmates since first grade, and she recalls him kindly offering her a ride that summer day. She thinks about how she’d never been a suspicious person until then.
Patrice had gotten in next to Bucky in the backseat and then another boy, Myron, had sit on the other side of her. Two other boys were in the front seat. When the car started speeding forward, Bucky had thrown himself on her while Myron had held her arms down.
Patrice had then suggested they they go to the lake instead, saying she knew a good spot and would show them a good time. When they arrived, Bucky took her shoes, saying it would prevent her from running. Instead, she dived into the lake and swam off. She ended up spotting her “uncle” (likely referrinf to Thomas) who was out on his boat and climbing into his boat.
Later, she she saw Bucky’s disfigured face, she knew it that “her hatred was so malignant” that it had flown out of her and done that to him.
See the discussion in Chapter 63, but basically Patrice thinks she cursed Bucky in some way, though Erdrich has stated that she purposely wrote it so it could be interpreted as either a medical condition or a curse.
This section also makes clearer that Patrice’s reluctance about romance and her distrust of people is likely rooted in her assault.
Chapter 69: U.S.I.S.
Barnes and Juggie are sitting around chatting when Barnes mentions that he’s unhappy because Wood Mountain “took” Patrice from him. But Juggie dismisses him comments. She says that Barnes should just give up on Patrice since she has clearly decided what she wants and it’s not him.
Instead, Juggie encourages Barnes to date Valentine, her half niece, instead. Juggie goes to her half brother Lemon ‘s house to tell Valentine that Barnes is interested in her. Valentine ends up asking Barnes out. That evening, Barnes looks happy and calls Valentine his girlfriend. Juggie reminds Barnes to play it cool with Valentine, though she doubts he will.
Chapter 70: The Runner
On the way home from work, Thomas thinks he sees Roderick running beside his car, even though he’s going faster than anyone could feasibly run. He knows it’s likely a hallucination, but when he tells Rose about it, she insists on going with him to work the next night, just in case it’s not.
That night, as they drive, Thomas talks about how he talks to Roderick sometimes, though it’s mostly just one-sided conversations or instances where Roderick repeats things he said a long time ago. At the plant, Rose tells him to go to sleep and that she’ll keep watch instead.
Roderick appears, but he sits behind a motor, where Rose can’t see him. He thinks about his days working at the school bakery. He had been good at the job for a long time, but then he’d been accused of stealing dough and had been fired. After that, things had gone downhill and eventually he’d ended up that cold cellar (where he died). Roderick thinks about how he’s tired of being a ghost.
When Thomas awakes, he sees that Rose has fallen asleep. He goes to write yet another a letter to garner support to oppose the termination bill.
Chapter 71: Missionary Feet
Sometimes late at night, Vernon finds himself sleepwalking. A few times, he ends up in Milda Hanson’s yard or driveway. He tries not to let himself wander over to Grace’s house, but one night he ends up in the middle of the road on the way there, still barefoot. On the way back, he spots a car with two people in it flailing around. Later, he feels disappointed in himself for not stopping them.
Earlier in the book, Betty Pye and Norbert are fooling around in his car when Betty thinks she saw someone she recognizes, but she can’t quite place who it was. Now we know that person was Vernon.
Chapter 72: The Spirit Duplicator
With Millie’s economic survey completed and 35 copies printed fresh off the presses, the copies are ready to be sent yo local and state officials as well as local news and other potentially interested parties.
Regarding the government’s desire for Indian lands, Juggie tells Millie about how one time there’d been a census taker who had purposely taken count when everyone was off hunting and many had starved to death as a result.
Millie finds herself feeling strongly about her identity as an Indian, though she’d not sure why since she’s as assimilated into the general populace as anyone could be. Millie feels happy as she continues her work of retyping her report.
Chapter 73: Prayer for 1954
This chapter describes what many of the characters are doing that night as Millie works on her report. Vernon (the lanky missionary) is sleepwalking along a road. Zhaanat (traditional Chippewa-Cree woman) is rubbing bear grease into the skin of the baby. Barnes (big thatch-haired blond) is fooling around with Valentine. Wood Mountain (damaged, powerful) is sleeping in a horse stall while his horse stomps, “hoping that his servant will appear”.
Pixie (“elfin” woman) is ordering a wristwatch from a catalog. Bucky (extremely drunk fellow) is begging that his curse be lifted, crawling to his parents’ house. Thomas (worried man) is writing letters.
Chapter 74: You Can’t Assimilate Indian Ghosts
As a ghost, Roderick thinks about how he “was never going to be assimilated” and wasn’t in their “white” heaven or hell. He also was “too far away” from Indian lands to end up in Chippewa heaven. Instead, he ended up stuck roaming the earth, and “he wished he could go home”.
The description of Roderick as not ending up in “white”/Christian versions of afterlife nor Chippewa versions of it seems to reflect the same difficulties regarding assimilation that many of the characters face.
The feeling of being not quite white and not fully a traditional Indian (like Zhaanat) is echoed by a lot of the younger characters like Patrice who end up in a kind of limbo where the result is a type of loneliness from not quite fitting in either category. Roderick narrates that “it was very hard to not be assimilated all alone”.
Chapter 75: Clark Kent
Patrice goes to visit the eye clinic regarding her eyes. The doctor recommends eyeglasses. When she exits the clinic with her new glasses, Wood Mountain teases her, calling her Clark Kent (superman). They hold hands as they head back, and finally Patrice kisses him. Soon, they are on the ground having sex in the woods. Afterwards, they both feel purified, and Patrice feels as if she can hardly breathe as she says goodbye to him.
Chapter 76: Checks
Millie needs fabric for clothes, so she and Grace go to the local mission to look for something good. She ends up buying a checked blouse and a dress with fabric that she likes. The pattern of the dress looks “intricate and mysterious” to her. Mentally, it takes her to a place that’s “simple, savage, ineffable, and exquisite”, that exists beyond the simple patterns of a dress.
Chapter 77: The Lamanites
Thomas reads an excerpt of the Book of Mormon to Rose which describes Indians as being “wild and ferocious, and blood-thirsty people, full of idolatry and filthiness”, among other things. After having read more of the Book of Mormon, he understands why Arthur V. Watkins was so quick to dismiss the treaty the government had with the Indians.
According to Watkins’s religion, the Mormons “had been divinely gifted all of they land they wanted” and the Indians had no right to live on it. The legality of the rest of it was secondary “to personal revelation”.
Thomas talks to Rose about how ridiculous he thinks the stories in the Book of Mormon are. Of course, he realizes all religious stories are like that, but he prefers the entertaining and humorous stories of his people over the overly-serious and humorless stories in the Book of Mormon.
Chapter 78: The Lord’s Plan
Betty notices that Norbert has stopped making any effort with her, merely meeting up to have sex, and she doesn’t like that attitude.
One night, Norbert falls out of the car when the door unexpectedly opens as they are fooling around. Betty then sees that it was someone who had opened the car door. The person asks to tell them “about the Lord’s plan” for their souls.
This is presumably Vernon, since he previously spotted them and regretted not stopping them.
Chapter 79: The Committee
So far, the committee to be sent to Washington is to consist of Juggie Blue, Millie Cloud and Thomas Wazhashk. Louis doesn’t go because he doesn’t want to leave his horses. However, Millie is nervous about testifying, saying that she’s not good at saying the right things and suggesting that Patrice take her place.
Juggie and Millie find Patrice as she exits work to offer a ride home and talk to her. (Patrice is momentarily reminded of a similar offer from Bucky before her assault, and how she’d been ushered into a car to be coerced into being the waterjack.) Millie suggests that Patrice testify in her place. Patrice declines, but offers to practice with her and go with her as backup instead.
At the next committee meeting, they discuss needing to raise additional funds if Patrice is to attend with them. Juggie also mentions how she’s going in case Thomas gets “sick on the city water” (meaning, in case he gets drunk) but Thomas reassures her that he’s on the wagon (no drinking) so that won’t happen. Juggie encourages Moses to join them in Washington.
Afterwards, Millie goes with Patrice back to her house to prep.
Chapter 80: Scrawny
Barnes thinks about how he has barely gotten past “second base” with Valentine and how it seems she wants a proposal if that is going to happen. Instead, he had turned to exercise to distract himself and was losing weight as a result.
Chapter 81: The Journey
Soon, Juggie, Moses, Thomas, Patrice and Millie are all headed to Washington. When they arrive, Thomas and Moses are disoriented by the city noise. They find the Moroccan Hotel, the shabby but clean hotel they’re staying at. They’re all tired by the time they get settled amd so they take a nap, and Patrice dreams about Wood Mountain. When they wake, they go to eat.
Chapter 82: Falcon Eyes
As the House of Representatives, a woman advocating for a free Puerto Rico pulls out a gun and starts shooting into the air. Quickly, she is stopped by guards. The guards end up questioning everyone there. Patrice is asked about where she’s from and what she saw. Afterwards, Patrice thinks about how Native Americans are considered “savage” but only in Washington had she ever seen someone use a gun.
Chapter 83: Termination of Federal Contracts and Promises Made with Certain Tribes of Indians
At the hearing, they all take oaths and the senators are seated. Senator Milton R. Young advocates against the bill, as they’d hoped, saying that the state wasn’t in a position to replace the role of the federal government on the reservations.
Then, Thomas speaks. When Watkins interrupts Thomas, he talks about how Indians just end up leasing out the land because they don’t “like to farm”, Patrice thinks about how the Indians had no choice but to lease out or sell land to white farmers nearby in order to pay taxes.
As Thomas talks, he sees Roderick in the room. Roderick looks at Senator Arthur V. Watkins and sees in him the many people who had treated him harshly and unkindly when he was alive. Thomas thinks about how the teacher had locked Roderick in the basement, but Thomas had been planning on busting him out. Thomas had then proceeded to suck up to the teacher and ask him for advice so he’d have the opportunity to steal the keys from the teacher’s pockets and let Roderick out.
After the hearing, Thomas finds Watkins and thanks him for listening to his testimony. Watkins notes that no one else has thanked him for listening to their testimony that before.
The book is still unclear on what exactly happened to Roderick and how he died at this point, since apparently Roderick did manage to be let out of the basement by Thomas.
Chapter 84: The Way Home
This section covers each of the characters’ thoughts as they head home after the hearing.
Patrice. Patrice thinks about the Puerto Rican woman who “wanted her country to live so badly she’d been willing to kill”. Patrice thinks about what she herself would be willing to do if they end up losing this fight. Patrice thinks of herself as being inhabited by a vengeful spirit and tells herself to ask her mother to help her get rid of these thoughts when she gets home.
Moses. Moses thinks about his wife and worries if anything has happened with him gone.
Thomas. Thomas replays and thinks about what happened in the hearing in his head. He thinks about how Senator Watkins had been very interested in what percentage of Indian blood each of them had, though none of them knew the answer.
Later, when they stop at Minneapolis, Thomas and Moses go to find a tobacco shop when Thomas has a stroke. He ends up in a hospital where he envisions the nurse as a wolf with long stained teeth and yellow wolf eyes.
(I’ll be totally honest, I don’t entirely get why he sees the nurse as a wolf. This is a placeholder if I get any ideas I’ll fill it in here.)
Chapter 85: If
Wood Mountain lays Baby Archille in his cradle board as he thinks about proposing to Patrice. The two are alone in the house when Vera shows up with a man (Henry).
The baby makes a noise and for a moment Wood Mountain imagines running off with the baby, but instead he tells Vera that the baby is hers. Vera collapses and soon Zhaanat comes home and hold each other. Meanwhile, Wood Mountain worries about the possibility of losing baby Archille.
Wood Mountain has become very attached to the baby and thinks of it as his. With Vera back, he worries about the possibility of her taking the baby away from him.
Chapter 86: Tosca
Valentine breaks up with Barnes. Afterwards, Barnes feels some mix of elation and ejection. He listens to an opera recording which makes him weep and falls asleep.
Chapter 87: The Salisbury
At the hospital in Minneapolis, Patrice stays behind to look after Thomas. When Patrice is alone with him, she speaks ceremonial words in Chippewa to invoke spirits and invite them to enter the room.
Later, when Thomas has stabilized, Patrice goes with Millie to Millie’s apartment. Millie is delighted to have her there, and they drink tea together. As they talk, Patrice suggests that she “adopt” Millie as her sister, which Millie understand is a “special mark of friendship and honor” according to the Chippewa culture. Still, Millie finds herself feeling disappointed.
The book seems to be hinting that Millie has romantic feelings toward Patrice as she’s tempted to “blurt out words of love”, which are not reciprocated. Patrice also feels a bond with Millie, but her feelings are more sisterly.
Chapter 88: The Lake, the Well, the Crickets Singing in the Grass
In the hospital, Thomas thinks back to the day when he was on his boat and Patrice had come swimming up to him (the day she had been assaulted). Patrice hadn’t told him what exactly had happened, but he had pieced the gist of it together.
Thomas then thinks about another time he was on his boat and how there’d been a storm. He’d been tossed from the boat. Then, Thomas’s memory flashes to himself and Biboon digging a well after the WPA (Works Progress Administration) had issued some funds to do so. They had dug for days, and he’d feared the hole he was in closing up above him. Now, in bed he feels comparatively safer and he’s glad he doesn’t have to return to Washington, giving his mind some rest.
Compared to the stress of the previous months preparing the fight the termination bill, Thomas knows that he had done what he can do and is able to let his mind rest a little, even if the final result isn’t known yet.
Chapter 89: The Ceiling
In Millie’s apartment, Patrice asks Millie about what she should do if she wants to be a lawyer. When Millie falls asleep, Patrice thinks about Wood Mountain and wonders if she loves him.
She thinks that she’ll know what she wants to do about him when Vera returns. Patrice realizes that, like Zhaanat, she has always sensed that Vera was alive, though now she worries that perhaps she was wrong.
Chapter 90: Greater Joy
Elnath and Vernon talk about Vernon’s feelings for Grace. Elnath accuses Grace of tempting Vernon, but Vernon says she didn’t. He promises to “quit” the sin (of liking her) and Elnath accepts that.
They are freezing cold in their room and miserable about it. When Louis Pipestone offers to drop them off in Grand Forks, they happily accept, knowing there is a church member there who will take them in.
Chapter 91: The Owls
Louis drives to Minneapolis to pick up Thomas when he’s ready to be discharged. On the way home, Thomas tells Louis that when he hit the floor (as he had his stroke), he saw a flock of snowy owls flying over him. Thomas (who believes white owls are good luck, contrary to what others often think) thinks they were protecting him.
Louis says that LaBatte was covering his night shifts for a while, but quit because there was an owl trying to get in at night which scared him. Thomas also suggests that perhaps Roderick’s presence at the plant at night may have scared him off too. Louis adds that now LaBatte has gotten very religious and attends Mass every day.
Chapter 92: The Bear Skull in the Tree Was Painted Red and Faced East
Wood Mountain goes to visit baby Archille, and Vera sees how excited the baby is to see him. Zhaanat echoes the sentiment, pointing out that the baby loves Wood Mountain more than anyone else. Vera tells them that the baby’s name is Thomas.
Each day, Wood Mountain returns to visit the baby, and Wood Mountain notices how many scars and injuries she had gotten while she was away. He feels a bond with her knowing she has injuries in the same places he does. They start calling the baby “Thomas Archille” or the other way around or just Archille.
When, Patrice sees them together and recognizes that Wood Mountain has feelings for Vera. Onre day, Wood Mountain admits it to Patrice, and she is understanding and agrees that he and Vera are right together. She is also glad that there will be someone there to “help put together Vera’s demolished heart.”
Chapter 93: The Duplicator Spirits
After Millie puts together a report about the trip to Washington, to be distributed to the tribe, she finishes the master version to be duplicated. As it runs in the presses, each duplicate is accompanied by a spirit of those who came before in the tribe.
As Millie turns the crank, she thinks she hears their whispers, or perhaps it’s just the wind. When Juggie arrives, she hears it too. Gazing up at the Northern Lights, Juggie says that the dancing spirits are looking after them. Millie thinks to herself that they could be electrons (the scientific explanation for the Northern Lights) and spirits at the same time.
Separately, Millie also thinks that she should go on a date with Barnes, since she likes that he had asked her out with an equation.
Chapter 94: À Ta Santé
At lunch at work, the women joke about how Betty farts when she eats eggs, and they talk about the petition regarding the termination bill.
With Vera and the baby, Patrice is working extra hard since she needs the money to help support the family and wants to ask for a raise. Wood Mountain has taken a job driving school buses, and they are working on constructing a cabin behind the house for him and Vera to move into. Once that happens, Patrice will only be responsible for supporting Pokey and her mother.
Meanwhile, Millie has decided to study anthropology with Zhaanat as her primary source. Millie is in the process of applying for funds to be able to pay Zhaanat a little money in exchange. The hope is that with that money and Patrice’s savings, Patrice will be able to go back to school.
When Patrice gets home, she sees that Zhaanat has prepared sap for them to drink which allowed you to “share the genius of the woods” if you drink it. They toast saying “à ta santé” (which means “to your health” in French).
Chapter 95: Roderick
Roderick hangs around in Washington after the hearing. He meets the many other Indian ghosts who are there. They died for a variety of reasons. Some were lynched after going to Washington for similar reasons as the Turtle Mountain delegation. Others were brought over as “living exhibits” at some point and killed soon after. They encourage him to stick around.
Chapter 96: Thomas
Back at work, Thomas signs some cards for friends and relatives. After his stoke, he occasionally has difficulty now remembering certain words.
Later, as he sleeps, he sees muskrats everywhere. He asks one of them for their name and it responds “Wazhashk gidizhinikaaz”, which is Thomas’s name. Then, he sees him and his father sitting outside as the leaves fall, despite it currently being spring. All around them, the prairies are littered with bones all around. The bones assemble themselves into forms and then the earth blows away and vanishes.
Thomas then goes back to writing his cards until the end of his shift.
In the end, the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa is not terminated.
The author notes that her grandfather (who the character of Thomas was based upon) recovered from his stroke and went on to work on improving the school system, writing a Turtle Mountain Constitution and publishing a history of the Turtle Mountains.