Last Updated on May 12, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 575
The 36 year-old sister of Marie-Adele and half-sister of Pelajia and Philomena, Annie hopes to be a country singer and someday marry her boyfriend, Fritz, who is a Jewish country musician. She delights in gossiping about the activities of "Big Joey," a local man who sleeps with a variety of women. Her daughter, Ellen, lives in a neighboring town with her boyfriend and writes her to tell her about the upcoming bingo game in Toronto.
Recently returned to the Wasy reservation, Emily is the 32 year-old sister of Annie (and half-sister of Pelajia and Philomena). Described as "one tough lady," Emily's coarse language and rough exterior are the results of an abusive ten-year marriage and the death, years later, of a female lover in San Francisco. Her rough exterior gradually gives way as her relationship with her traveling companions deepens. At the play's end she reveals that she is pregnant and that Big Joey is the father.
Philomena is Pelajia's 49 year-old sister and the voice of practicality among the seven women. She is lighthearted and often cracks jokes. She hopes to win enough money to buy a toilet that is "big and white and very wide." Late in the play, she reveals that she once had to give up her child.
The traditional "Trickster" that features prominently in Cree and other Native American and North
American culture, Nanabush is, according to Highway, "as pivotal and important a figure in the Native world as Christ is in the realm of Christian mythology." Described as "essentially a comic, clownish sort of character," Nanabush "teaches us about the nature and the meaning of existence on the planet Earth." In the play, Nanabush appears disguised as a seagull, a nighthawk, and the Bingo Master. It is he who takes Marie-Adele to the spirit world when she dies at the bingo game. ("Nanabush'' is the Ojibway name for the Trickster.)
The natural leader of "the rez sisters," the 53-year-old Pelajia Patchnose dreams of a life away from the reservation the women refer to as Wasy. After her return from the bingo game, she decides (as Dennis W. Johnston describes in Canadian Literature), to use her leadership talents "to genuinely improve conditions on the reserve rather than just to complain about them."
Zhaboonigan (zah-boon-i-gan) Peterson
Zhaboonigan is the 24 year-old mentally disabled adopted daughter of Veronique. Her parents died in a "horrible car crash'' twenty-two years ago and Veronique has raised the girl since then. Only she and Marie-Adele can see Nanabush when he appears; in one instance, she tells the Trickster of a time that she was sexually abused by two white boys.
Veronique St. Pierre
The 45 year-old sister-in-law to the other women, Veronique complains about her alcoholic husband when not caring for Zhaboonigan Peterson, her adopted daughter, who has mental deficiencies. After Marie-Adele's death, Veronique moves into the Starblanket home to care for the fourteen children and cook for them on Marie-Adele's stove, an example (like her adopting Zhaboonigan) of her sweet nature and concern for others' well-being.
Suffering silently from cancer, the 39 year-old Marie-Adele is the "mother figure" of the play. She lives with her husband, Eugene, and her fourteen children, for whom she hopes to win enough money to buy an island paradise where they can live "real nice and comfy." She dies during the bingo game in Toronto, where her spirit is symbolically transported to the spirit world.