The story begins with a short series of rhetorical questions asking if life for Native Americans would be any better if they had been able to defend their land from white invaders. The narrator of the story then relates a series of anecdotes from his life. The first is the story of the time he was robbed while working as a cashier at a 7-11 convenience store. The second is about a psychic Indian child who gives uncanny readings for the patrons at the bar on the reservation. Many secondary characters from other stories in the collection - including Uncle Moses, Lester FallsApart, and Seymour – get readings. When it is the narrator's turn, the child urges him to break the mirrors in his house and tape the pieces to his body. The narrator obeys and the child laughs at him. Finally, the narrator remembers being so poor as a child that his family could only afford to eat potatoes. They used food coloring to help them pretend that they were eating different kinds of food.
In the next section of the story, the narrator addresses Adrian (Victor's friend on the reservation). It is the Fourth of July, and the narrator wonders how Indians can rebuild themselves when they have endured so many injustices over the course of history. He urges Adrian to imagine the tools that will help him be resilient and overcome obstacles.
“Imagining the Reservation” draws on concepts and plot elements from other stories in the collection. These include the mystical child from “Jesus Christ’s Half-Brother...” and the 7-11 robbery from “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven”. It presents a series of deep questions about modern Native American life in the form of a prose poem. Unlike the other stories in the collection, this text does not have a narrative arc and instead uses a variety of stylistic strategies to probe readers to think about how Native Americans can overcome historical injustices and move forward.
The scholar Daniel Grassian suggests that in this story, imagination and creative expression are the only ways that Native Americans can move forward. Grassian notes that in his previous collection, Alexie wrote that poetry is the product of anger and imagination; in this collection, he revisits that concept, writing that “Survival = Anger x Imagination” (150). Survival, then, is inextricable from poetry and imagination. The characters in Alexie’s stories must maintain their imaginative integrity in order to endure life’s many hardships (Grassian 75).