Abel is the protagonist of the novel. The other characters are important not only because of their stories but in how they reveal Abel's situation and their interactions with him. He is a veteran, an alcoholic, a murderer, and an orphan. His narrative overlaps significantly with federal programs that add to his isolation and challenges.
Ben is a pragmatic, straight-talking man who has moved from his home in Arizona to Los Angeles where he works in a factory. He is the primary narrator of the third section of the novel, "The Night Chanter." A mentor to Abel, he gives him his only coat when Abel leaves to return home to Walatowa.
Abel's grandfather is a farmer who has spent his life near Walatowa on the reservation. His daughter (Abel's mother) and grandson (Vidal) died, and he is virtually alone. He raised Abel, and he participated in his community rituals. He takes his grandson to see Fat Josie for injuries. Francisco recalls his life, and his mistakes, at the close of his life (which is the close of the book). Francisco seems to be one of the few characters who can be thought of as primarily "good."
Father Olguin is a peripheral character in the lives of the Navajo. He does not suggest the people's beliefs are "evil" as Fray Nicolás did in his letters and journal, but his understanding of the community is never fully there. He rereads the words of Fray Nicolás, imagines reactions from Angela St. John, but he does not minister to Abel when he is drunk or when he has lost his grandfather.
Angela St. John
Angela imagines Abel as a bear. This ultimately leads to her telling her own son a story of the "Maiden and the Bear," a tale that resembles a traditional Native American story. She comes to the hospital when Ben calls her about Abel. Her affection for Abel is obvious. Like Father Olguin and John Big Bluff Tosamah, Angela exists on the fringes of the story. She is a factor in Abel's fate, but not a character who is truly well known to the reader.
John Big Bluff Tosamah
Tosamah is one of the characters who has a section of the book named after him: "The Priest of the Sun." He connects the Native American community in Los Angeles. However, he cannot understand the experience Abel and Ben (and a lot of people) are having. Although he—like Father Olguin—is isolated, he also connects to his parish through his sermons, a peyote ceremony, and sharing traditional tales.