The multiple perspectives that different characters offer on community, belonging, alienation, and indigenous identity in relation to Oakland help the reader understand the city’s complexity. Oakland can be a microcosm of American geography, as author Tommy Orange locates Indian people on land that is “everywhere or nowhere.” Gentrification and displacement of Native peoples, most of whom are low-income, and other similarly disadvantaged groups is shown as a daily and ever-worsening reality. Orange takes issue with the dominant narrative of the “disappearing Indian” that includes urban residence as exclusively promoting cultural erasure (ethnocide). Both the ongoing work of the Indian Center and the symbolic re-location of Native peoples as expressed in the singular performance of the big powwow are important elements in bringing Oakland back into Indian country.
The character of Dene helps to recreate contemporary Indian Oakland in word and image, and thereby rejects the inevitability of decline that others emphasize. Orange contextualizes ordinary Oakland people within the local and regional phenomena that have contributed to the city’s reputation. For example, the Oakland As and their huge stadium have international fame. For janitor Bill Davis, the stadium is both his workplace and a means of recalling his memories of childhood innocence connected to the love of baseball.