As Ida says at the beginning of her narrative section, "I have to tell this story every day, add to it, revise, invent the parts I forget or never knew. No one but me carries it all and no one will." Hers is the linchpin that connects all three narrative sections in Dorris' novel.
Raised on a Montana reservation, from which she never moves, Ida is faced with the grim decision at fifteen years old to raise her aunt's child as her own. Although she has the emotional feelings for Christine that any mother might have for a daughter, Ida and Christine's relationship is tenuous at best. They seem more like rivals than mother and daughter. For example, when Ida's son, Lee, is born, she and Christine battle over who is the better caregiver to Lee. Ironically, however, no matter how much Christine resents Ida as a mother, it is Ida to whom Christine turns to raise and protect Rayona.
Of all the female characters in the novel, perhaps with the exception of Evelyn, Ida is the most stable, strong, and self-determined. For example, she fights Clara for the right to raise Christine as her own, legal child even though she knows that she's giving up her life's independence. Even more, she intentionally rejects Willard Pretty Dog as a lover after she learns that she's pregnant with his child. Her decision is mitigated by Willard's thoughtless comments about her following his successful reconstructive facial surgery: "Ida may not be beautiful. . . . She may not be very smart. But when no one else cared for me, she was there." His comments are more painful than he realizes, for they also characterize other people's relationships — most notably Christine's — to Ida and not just Willard's.
At the very end of the novel, the image of Ida braiding her long black hair is a powerful symbol; the braiding symbolizes the narrative strands that together make up the novel. "The cold was bearable because the air was so still. I let the blanket slip from my shoulders, lifted my arms about my head, and began," she says at the end of Chapter 17. The phrase "and began" is significant in that it is so matter-of-fact; the simplicity of it parallels the bold simplicity of Ida's narration. Although we might not think so at first, during her entire life, decisions seem to be made for her rather than by her, but she faces them resolutely and with a determination not found in other characters.
Ida's braiding her hair symbolizes her creation of her own individualized story. The three strands of hair that she rhythmically interweaves are similar to the novel's three narrative sections, which together make a complete whole that is all three women's lives. Separately, each woman struggles, but united, they form a cohesiveness that gives strength, power, and validation to their stories. Ida, as the last narrative weaver in the novel, is the foundation on which both Rayona and Christine build their own life stories.