The narrator, or Zitkala-Ša in these stories, is a young Dakota girl, a happy, free spirit who is at one with nature. She and adores her mother and her way of life, but she can't help being attracted by the missionaries' stories and asks to go away to school with them. Her older brother has gone away to school in the East, and she hopes to go as well. Enthusiastic and curious at first, the narrator ends up deeply disappointed to discover the adults at the boarding school expect her to leave her whole culture behind and adopt theirs.
Greedy, selfish Iktomi is a classic trickster figure. In the story "Iktomi and the Ducks" he is described as a "spider fairy" who "dresses like a real Dakota brave." Although he is a trickster, his tricks rarely work out and almost always backfire on him. His lack of success may even seem pitiful, but he never learns from his mistakes and never changes his ways. Completely self-centered, Iktomi has no friends because he is always conning others and thus cannot be trusted.
Bureau of Indian Affairs
The Bureau of Indian Affairs, or BIA, is an organization Zitkala-Ša describes as "tyrannical." Though she worked for the BIA briefly, Zitkala-Ša is vehemently opposed to the institution because of its inefficiency and blatant hostility to Native Americans, and she argues for its dissolution. According to Zitkala-Ša, the Bureau is part of the bureaucracy that cripples indigenous communities and keeps them silenced.
Zitkala-Ša's mother has raised her daughter to be a free spirit and to value her culture. When her other daughter died on the Trail of Tears, her mother came to hate white men because of their complicity in her death. She also holds them responsible for her brother's death. The mother straddles two worlds, for she gave her children English names and sent her son, 10 years older than Zitkala-Ša, to an Eastern boarding school. She bitterly resents the loss of her way of life but knows her children must learn to live in the future.
When the badger is desperate after being turned out of his house, he performs a ritual that results in the appearance of the avenger, a spirit in the form of an Indian brave. Carrying a magic arrow, he travels far and wide, righting wrongs and helping those in need. When characters see him, they recognize him immediately and are frightened by his power. Although he has shown he can be tricked, he wins in the end.