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Another assigned reading book, this book was written by the late Michael Dorris. A Yellow Raft in Blue Water. Sadly, Dorris committed suicide earlier this year after releasing the followup to Yellow Raft, Cloud Chamber.

Obstacles In Life
Apri 14, 1997

As the subject of the first section of Doris' novel, A Yellow Raft In Blue Water, Rayona faces many problems that are unique to someone her age. Ray's mixed race heritage makes her a target of discrimination on the reservation. Problems in her family life (or lack thereof), give Rayona a reversed role in which she is the mother taking care of Christine. In dealing with these issues, Rayona learns a lot about herself and others.

Because of the life that Christine leads, the role of mother and daughter are switched and Rayona often finds herself watching out for her mom. When Ray comes home from school, she would often learn that her mother had gone out to party. Times like this meant that Rayona had to care for herself. It is not uncommon for one to stay out late; but when it is the parent who is doing so, one must question the responsibility of the person. When Christine leaves the hospital, Rayona shows up and helps prevent a potential disaster. She realizes what her mother plans to do, and that her mom will not crash the car with her on board. While Christine is not very reliable, she has no wish to hurt Rayona either; Ray's prediction was correct. As a child, Rayona must fulfill more obligations than a normal teen. Over the time that leads to her abandonment, Rayona begins to feel displaced from her mother. Christine's increasing self concern causes Rayona to feel her mom is ignoring her, when that is not true at all.

In any given culture, people are proud of their heritage. However, when an individual of one group meets with people of another, and the element of ignorance is added, the individual will be socially ostracized. Of mixed descent, Rayona does not quite fit in with the others at the reservation. In their mindset, she is not a true Indian and therefore does not belong on the reservation. Being isolated from one's peers is not an easy thing to handle. Rayona spends her days alone, wondering about her mother and blaming herself for her troubles. This enhances her feelings of inadequacy. Rayona pulls inside herself by keeping her worries private. When others inquire about Ray's condition, she conceals her problems with lies. By lying she dismisses her difficulties; denies their existence to herself. Inside, she is falling apart; the stress she has to deal with brings her near to a mental collapse.

In the middle of the trip to Aunt Ida's, Rayona wonders what will happen to her. Standing on a hill overlooking Ida's house, Christine runs and leaves Rayona. In a short lapse of time, Rayona has lost her mother and gained an unwilling caretaker. The treatment from both women causes Rayona to question her own value as a person; she finds herself of little worth. As life on the reservation slowly progresses, Father Tom befriends Rayona. While the priest's intentions are innocent, he ends up causing Rayona to feel more poorly about herself. So Rayona runs, she tries to escape from her difficulties at the reservation. At the lake, she decides to begin a new life. Several things happen to Rayona at the camp. The ways her co-workers behave toward her depress her further, and then the letter she finds causes her to want what is perceived as a normal life. Though also at the lake, begins a turning point for Ray and her self-image.

When Rayona decides to continue working at Bearpaw State Park, she reinforces the lies that she has begun to live by. Rayona continues her lies by saying " dad's a pilot on jumbos (71)," to Sky. Because no one at the Lake knows her, she wants to start over; to ignore her past. At this time, she is still trying to escape from her problems. Evelyn's indifferent attitude toward Rayona makes her feel more comfortable with herself. She gets attention that she has not had before. Evelyn's personal regard for Rayona's helps ray feel better about herself. During the hours of work at the park, Rayona begins to thing about her life before Bearpaw Lake and at the Lake. In comparing the two experiences, she decides that she prefers her current lifestyle to the past. The new world that she has created to avoid her difficulties soon crumbles upon the visit of Ellen's parents. The DeMarcos discuss their foster child Rocky, "Indian...the product of a broken home (101)." At this time, Rayona sees how similar she is to Rocky, and where she may be headed if nothing is done. When Evelyn sees Rayona after the truth is revealed, Rayona is forced to view the problems at hand. She realizes that she must deal with her family problems instead of shunning them.

Evelyn's encouraging Rayona eventually leads to their arrival at the rodeo. There, she encounters Foxy and is put into an awkward situation by agreeing to ride the horse for time. While Foxy did have a knife, there was no reason for Rayona to agree to ride. Rayona knew that she could get hurt, but she wanted to prove to herself and others that she was a capable person. Riding an unbroken horse is obviously not an easy thing, especially an impossible thing for a first time rider. Rayona has a feeling of hopelessness in her life, riding Babe was a way of defeating her limitations. Her life was difficult, but riding Babe was too. Change can be brought about; though it is not always easy to accomplish. After getting bucked off for the first time then the second, Ray feels that she has "a connection to a power that she never knew existed (120)." This event enormously boosts Rayona's self-perception and leads her forward in life.

As a teen, Rayona is in a confusing period of life. The gradual breakdown of her family life places an addition burden on her conscience. Without others for support, Rayona must find a way to handle her hardships. At first, she attempts to avoid these obstacles in her life, by lying, and by not voicing her opinions. Though when confronting them, she learns to feel better about herself and to understand others.

Copyright, © Greg Wittel 1996-2000. All Rights Reserved.

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