When Tayo returns to the reservation after being diagnosed with "battle fatigue," he lies in bed crying and vomiting for weeks. He meets with two medicine men, one traditional and one modern, and ultimately discovers he must complete a new ceremony to reconnect with his Native American culture and shake off the grip of white dominance. Tayo starts by recovering Josiah's cattle, which have been stolen by a white man. Then he spends a summer with Ts'eh, reconnecting with the natural world. Finally, he survives a night alone being hunted by Emo before returning to the reservation to share his stories with the elders. Through the ceremony, Tayo learns to accept and love his mixed heritage and culture, which had previously brought him nothing but misery.
Betonie is a modern medicine man who lives in the mountains above the Gallup ceremony grounds. Viewed as a kook by many in his Navajo tribe, Betonie spends his days collecting information about time and society, including old calendars, telephone books, and Coke bottles. He mixes these new elements with traditional elements, such as plants and leaves, to create ceremonies relevant in the modern world. Betonie teaches Tayo that society must constantly be changing, and that without stories we are all doomed to be forgotten.
After Laura runs away from the reservation, gets pregnant, and eventually dies, Auntie agrees to take care of her son, Tayo, raising him from the age of four. From the very beginning, Auntie views Tayo as an inconvenience that brought shame upon her family. She only agrees to care for him out of obligation to the "old ways," which value family unity. She never shows Tayo love and actively seeks to exclude him from his Laguna culture. Auntie believes her tribe can only survive by embracing extreme cultural purity. Her selfish and strict beliefs are suggested to be other forms of "witchcraft" from white culture that seeks destruction.
After returning from the war alongside Tayo, Harley, Leroy, and Pinkie, Emo becomes an angry alcoholic who channels his feelings of frustration into hatred for white people, even mixed-race people like Tayo. Although the other veterans feel just as disillusioned, Emo falls fully under the "witchcraft" that breeds greed, disrespect, revenge, and violence. Completely disconnected from the harmony of his native culture, Emo plots to kill Tayo simply because he's part white, hoping it will give him momentary satisfaction.
Ts'eh represents the strong women of Laguna culture, and the love created from a spiritual connection with Earth. Ts'eh fits in a long line of mixed-race spiritual guides, including Night Swan and Betonie's grandmother. The novel suggests they are each embodiments of Spider Woman, who created the world. Ts'eh teaches Tayo how to reconnect with the natural world, caring for Earth and therefore caring for his soul. By loving Ts'eh, Tayo learns to love himself. Ts'eh appears three times on Tayo's journey, always offering him support, spiritual guidance, and love.
Uncle Josiah is Tayo's confidant on the Laguna reservation. He shows Tayo love when Auntie would not, and teaches him about ranching and the natural world, including cattle breeding. In Japan, Tayo cannot kill a group of Japanese soldiers because the image of Josiah flashes before his eyes. While Tayo and Rocky are away at war, Josiah dies, and Tayo is broken by his death. Josiah represents unconditional love and the childhood that Tayo has lost, which is further driven home by Rocky's death at war.
Rocky is Auntie's great hope for improving the family name. He is a football star and a good student, with dreams of going to college and leaving the reservation forever. He and Tayo enlist in the war when an Army recruiter deceptively suggests that Rocky can become a pilot, a position that was generally not given to Native American soldiers. At this crucial moment in the story, Rocky also calls Tayo his "brother," asking the recruiter if his brother can also be with him if they both enlist. Tayo loves Rocky like a brother and feels that he has failed his family by not bringing him home safely from the war. Tayo is haunted by his sense of failure and the loss of Rocky in his daily life.