The main protagonist in the collection. He appears in many of the stories and grows from an innocent child to a disillusioned young adult. He endures poverty and racism as a child, and makes a difficult transition when he attends high school off the reservation. As an adult, he has several unhealthy relationships with white women and struggles with alcoholism, but with great effort he eventually stops drinking.
Another one of the collection's central characters, Thomas is the same age as Victor. He is very eccentric – he frequently tells stories about Native American history, and believes he can fly and have prophetic visions. Victor rejects him when they are young because of his strange behavior, but they reconcile after taking a trip together in "This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona."
One of Victor's friends. Junior is one of only a few Indians on the reservation to attend college, and because of this, he has a tense relationship with his peers. He attends Gonzaga University and fathers a son named Sean with a woman he meets there, although they break up shortly after his birth. Junior drops out of college and returns to the reservation, where he faces alcoholism and poverty.
One of Victor's uncles. He brawls with his brother Arnold in "Every Little Hurricane".
Arnold ("Every Little Hurricane")
One of Victor's uncles. He brawls with his brother Adolph in the collection's first story, "Every Little Hurricane."
The spiritual leader of the Spokane tribe. She appears in "A Drug Called Tradition".
Victor's alcoholic father had a good relationship with his son when he was young. However, he disappears from his son's life after divorcing Victor's mother. He moves to Phoenix, Arizona, and Victor does not hear from him again until he must recover his ashes in "This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona."
A woman Victor has a casual sexual encounter with in "Crazy Horse Dreams".
One of Victor's friends. He appears in "The Only Traffic Signal on the Reservation Doesn't Flash Red Anymore" and "Imagining the Reservation."
A high-school basketball prodigy whose drinking disrupts his sports career.
A third-grade basketball prodigy. She plays for the sixth-grade boys' team despite her gender and her young age.
An alcoholic Indian who is the victim of Victor and Sadie's cruel prank in "Amusements".
A friend of Victor's who attends a carnival with him in "Amusements".
Norma Many Horses
A woman who commands great respect in the tribe because of her kindness and her interest in Spokane heritage. She is married to Jimmy Many Horses.
A white former Olympic gymnast who sits next to Victor and Thomas on the plane in "This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona".
Victor's aunt, a talented dancer and dressmaker. She was tricked into accepting a hysterectomy after having her first son.
Victor's white girlfriend
In "All I Wanted to Do Was Dance", Victor struggles to get over an unnamed white girlfriend. It is possible that she is the same woman as the girlfriend in "The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven". Although the narrator of that story is unnamed, he has much in common with Victor and the events in the two stories complement each other.
The Cherokee stranger
A visitor to the reservation in "All I Wanted to Do Was Dance." Victor gives him a bottle of wine.
The tribal postmaster taken hostage by Thomas in "The Trial of Thomas Builds-the-Fire".
The tribal police chief in "The Trial of Thomas Builds-the-Fire".
David WalksAlong's wife in "The Trial of Thomas Builds-the-Fire". She leaves her husband after hearing Thomas speak.
A Yakima Indian who was hung for fighting for his land in the nineteenth century.
A sixteen-year-old Indian warrior who battled white settlers in the nineteenth century. In an absurd twist at the end of "The Trial of Thomas Builds-the-Fire", Thomas is convicted of Wild Coyote's crimes 200 years after the fact.
A beautiful Urban Indian in "Distances".
In "Distances", the only Skin to venture off the reservation.
A young man who is saddened by the apocalypse and clings to remnants of pre-plague society.
A character in "Distances" that turns a wristwatch in to the Tribal Council.
James's mother in "Jesus Christ's Half-Brother Is Alive and Well on the Spokane Indian Reservation". She dies in a fire shortly after her son's birth.
Frank Many Horses
A man who claims to be James's father in "Jesus Christ's Half-Brother...". His claims are not taken seriously by most people. His relationship to Jimmy Many Horses, if any, is unclear.
A friend of Frank Many Horses. Junior Polatkin notes in "Somebody Kept Saying Powwow" that Lester has more problems than anyone on the reservation.
A young boy who seems to have supernatural abilities. He does not talk until age seven, and when he does, he mostly speaks in deep philosophical koans. After his mother dies in a fire, James is raised by the narrator of "Jesus Christ's Half-Brother...".
Rosemary MorningDove's father. Although he is James's closest relative, he relinquishes custody to the narrator of "Jesus Christ's Half-Brother..." because tribal tradition dictates that someone who saves a child's life must raise the child.
Narrator ("Jesus Christ's Half-Brother Is Alive and Well on the Spokane Indian Reservation")
Twenty years old at the beginning of the story, the unnamed narrator must juggle the responsibilities of raising James with solving his own personal issues, which include alcoholism and emotional disturbance.
The narrator's girlfriend in "Jesus Christ's Half-Brother...". She helps him raise James and stay sober.
A friend of the narrator of "Jesus Christ's Half-Brother..." who fought in the Vietnam War.
A friend of the narrator in "Jesus Christ's Half-Brother...".
Thomas Builds-the-Fire's grandfather. As he gets older, most of his friends on the reservation die, so he seeks a job in Spokane. He becomes a motel maid and lives a lonely life until he is laid off.
Narrator ("A Good Story")
The narrator of "A Good Story" is referred to as Junior, but this does little to clarify his identity because Junior is a generic term of endearment for any young man on the reservation. Junior tells bleak stories about reservation life, but complies when his mother asks him to tell a good one for once.
The narrator's mother ("A Good Story")
The narrator's mother enjoys quilting and talking to her son. Her request for an optimistic story inspires this story's title.
A possibly fictional character made up by the narrator of "A Good Story." Uncle Moses lives in a house he built himself fifty years ago, and he has a special friendship with a schoolboy named Arnold.
Arnold ("A Good Story")
A pale-skinned boy who is often teased by his classmates in spite of his impressive basketball skills.
A man on the reservation who plays small roles in "The First Annual All-Indian Horseshoe Pitch and Barbecue" and "The Approximate Size of My Favorite Tumor".
The narrator's girlfriend in "The First Annual All-Indian Horseshoe Pitch and Barbecue."
Narrator ("The First Annual All-Indian Horseshoe Pitch and Barbecue")
A young man who attends the reservation carnival. It is possible that the narrator is Junior Polatkin, since this is one of the few stories that is definitely not narrated by Victor (who appears in the story), and Junior also has a girlfriend named Nadine.
Narrator ("Imagining the Reservation")
A contemplative young Indian man. This story may share a narrator with "The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven", because both narrators reference being robbed while working as a 7-11 cashier.
Jimmy Many Horses
Norma Many Horses' husband. He suffers from terminal cancer, and often uses humor to cope with difficult situations and emotions.
Jimmy Many Horses' second-favorite cousin.
Jimmy Many Horses' doctor.
A school bully in "Indian Education."
A cruel missionary teacher.
Victor’s kind fourth-grade teacher who encourages him to become a doctor in "Indian Education".
Victor's best friend in "Indian Education".
Narrator ("The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven")
A young Indian man - possibly Victor – who lives in Seattle and dates a white woman.
The BIA chief's son
A young white man who moves to the reservation with his father in "The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven". He is exceptionally good at basketball and can beat most of the Indians when playing one-on-one.
The 7-11 cashier
A cashier who becomes nervous when the narrator visits the store late at night in "The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven."
Narrator ("Family Portrait")
A young boy who must survive abandonment, neglect, poverty, and his parents' alcoholism.
The narrator's mother ("Family Portrait")
In "Family Portrait", the narrator's mother is deeply insecure and claims not to remember many of the darker incidents in his childhood.
Junior's love interest in "Somebody Kept Saying Powwow".
The college basketball player
An athlete who attended college with Junior Polatkin. He spent time in prison for unspecified reasons, and was mocked cruelly by Junior and his other teammates when he got out.
A friend of the narrator's father who was murdered ten years ago in "Witnesses, Secret and Not."
Narrator ("Witnesses, Secret and Not")
A thirteen-year-old boy who travels to Spokane when his father is called in for questioning about a murder.
The narrator's father
In "Witnesses, Secret and Not", the narrator's father is called to Spokane to be questioned about the murder of his friend, Jerry Vincent. He brings his son along and they discuss many aspects of life.
Jimmy Shit Pants
An alcoholic Indian who lives in Spokane.
The detective who questions the narrator's father in "Witnesses, Secret and Not".
A young boy who longs to leave the reservation in "Flight".
John-John's older brother, a military jet pilot. He was captured in action and has not been heard from since.
A white student with whom Junior Polatkin fathers a son in "Junior Polatkin's Wild West Show". Lynn is of Irish ancestry but diligently teaches her son about his Spokane heritage. She and Junior maintain a distant but cordial relationship.
Junior Polatkin's son, the result of a fling with his college classmate Lynn. Junior rarely sees him.
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