The first significant thing is that they reclaim Victor’s father’s ashes from Phoenix, Arizona. In Egyptian mythology, the phoenix rises from the ashes. Victor and Thomas do not completely reclaim their past relationship. But there is a sense of regeneration through this journey and the story concludes with a compromise when Victor agrees to stop “just once” to hear a story. Victor is the symbol of the modern Native American and Thomas is a symbol of the traditional Native American, still in tune to sense of what it means to be part of a tribe. By the story’s end, Victor seems to have a renewed understanding of this. This is another regeneration; like the Phoenix.
The plane is an interesting setting too because it is in the sky. Victor comments that everyone’s nice on airplanes because you’re stuck with each other. He adds that it’s too bad it can’t always be that way. This is a larger comment on the idea of community. It’s too bad everyone does not get along. It is also a comment on the U.S. government’s indifference: to whites and Indians. In this context, the plane acts as a temporary tribe, where everyone is connected by necessity. Because it is in the sky, it is above the world, rising like a Phoenix to another world where race and class do not matter.
Also note that the setting changes in time. The story alternates between the present and recollections of the past. This establishes themes of memory and change.
So, if you think about the themes of the different settings, you have memory, change and rebirth. The names are carefully chosen. Thomas Builds-the-fire is clearly symbolic as building the metaphorical fire that will lead to some change (and possible rebirth) in Victor’s life. This is an obvious reference to the fire resulting in the ashes from which the Phoenix will be reborn. Victor’s name implies that he will change. He will be victorious; in reconnecting with his past and embracing change in the future.
Memory, change and rebirth are also illustrated by the constantly flowing water of the Falls in Spokane.
In this context, a thesis statement would reflect how the settings are symbolic of the themes of memory, change and rebirth.