Citlali’s life revolved around his heritage, so his dream (which I presented in the Sunday Story Sample) was interwoven with the religious beliefs of his tribe.
The Mandans had a couple variations of the creation story, but in each one the Lone Man was a central figure. He and the Creator had a disagreement, and the Lone Man took the land north of the Missouri River and the Creator took the land south of the river. They both created different things, but the Lone Man was responsible for creating people.
He was also responsible for protecting the Mandan people, and when the great flood came, the Lone Man built a wall around the Mandan tribe so they survived it. This was why Citlali dreamt of the impregnable wall that surrounded the tribe. No one could get in and no one could get out of the tribe. In this case the Lone Man’s wall symbolized the struggle Citlali and the chief faced in trying to protect their culture while the white man’s influence got stronger and stronger around them.
When Citlali had this dream, there was a conflict between him him and Onawa. He knew that by following the chief’s orders, he was pushing her away from him since he was making her choose between him and her family. He was afraid she was going to choose her family, and in his dream, she did. In his dream, she tried to climb the wall but couldn’t get out, so she opted to dig a hole and go underground.
In the Mandan myths, they believed some Mandans lived under the ground. One Mandan myth gives the account of the underground Mandan tribe as being the original tribe. One day, someone climbed a grapevine and found the surface of the earth. He returned to tell the others about the wonders he found, and they followed him up the grapevine. When half the people were on the earth’s surface, the grapevine broke, so half the people were stuck under the ground forever and the others were stuck on the earth’s surface.
So in the dream, Onawa found the underground tribe, and the people there helped her get to the surface. While there she met the Lone Man who was their creator, and he led her to the sacred bundle. Sacred bundles were very important to the Mandans. They would marry to acquire them into their lodges (which is why Citlali married Onawa at the beginning of the book). It was a sacred bundle that brought Citlali and Onawa together (at their wedding), and in his dream, it was a sacred bundle that would permanently tear them apart. And when she opened the sacred bundle the Lone Man gave her, she ate the corn inside the sacred bundle and became a white woman.
By becoming white, she had embraced the white man’s way and fully removed herself from Citlali. During this time (the early 1900s) in the Mandan history, there was a struggle the Mandans went through to preserve their way of life, and they struggled to have more full-blooded Mandan children, which was why the men were encouraged to have more than one wife (women outnumbered the men). As we know from history, this was a lost cause. The last full-blooded Mandan died in the early 1970s.
In the book, Citlali was having to come to terms with the inevitable reality that the white man’s influence had penetrated the Mandan’s way of life so deeply that there was no going back. That’s why in the dream, Onawa became white and forgot him. Citlali had to make the choice between his love for Onawa (which included accepting the changes coming to the tribe) or the chief’s mandate (which was an effort to do everything possible to keep the Mandan line pure).
Onawa giving birth to the white child had a double meaning. One was that he would never had a place in his child’s life (because Onawa was pregnant at this time in the book), and two was that he saw a day when his descendants would no longer be full-blooded Mandans.
So there you go. That’s the symbolism behind Citlali’s dream. :D