In Linda Hogan’s 1998 novel Power, much is learned about Native American culture. The main characters, Omishto and Ama, help reveal this culture.
The novel is divided into nine chapters. In Chapter 1, “Omishto,” a girl is in a boat that is floating on a pond. She notices that there is a storm coming in. She describes the pond and the area around it. A snake tries to enter the girl’s boat, but she pushes it out with a pole, and then she moves the boat to land. As she does this, she feels something watching her but does not want to look in that direction.
A woman named Ama has told the girl that she is in the territory of “the cat” (3). The girl says that she has never seen the cat, but Ama saved one when some boys had it treed. Ama took away the boys’ rifle. The girl’s father named her Omishto, which means “one who watches.” Omishto’s grandmother says that Omishto has a wind inside her called Oni.
Omishto is careful on her way home because she can still feel something watching her. Chapter 2, “Stormlight,” opens with a story about a man named Abraham Swallow. People believe that he died from fear or magic in some trees near a canal. As Omishto walks toward Ama Eaton’s house, she recalls this story. Near Ama’s house, there is a tree called Methuselah that is 500 years old and was planted by the Spanish. Methuselah is the only tree of its kind in the area.
The tree and Ama’s house sit on the edge of the Taiga land. Taiga is the name of the Indian tribe to which Ama and Omishto belong. Ama’s house is old and looks like it is decaying. As Omishto reaches Ama’s house, Ama tells Omishto to come into the house.
Omishto tries to sneak up on Ama, but Ama always hears her. Ama and Omishto then sit on the porch together and discuss Abraham Swallow’s death. Omishto tells Ama that she does not think magic killed Abraham. Abraham’s wife thought that the old Taiga people had killed him with magic. In Chapter 2, the reader also learns that the cat is the Florida Panther. The Taiga people call it Sisa.
People of the Panther Clan believe they are related to the Florida Panther. Ama loves the panther and watches for it. Omishto’s mother is jealous of Ama because Ama is close to the old Taiga ways. Omishto was told not to visit Ama, but she still does.”
As the women continue to sit on the porch, Ama asks Omishto if she dreamt the night before. Ama says that she did and goes inside the house. She returns and tells Omishto that she dreamt about a sickly, skinny panther. As Omishto and Ama sit on the porch, four women from the tribe walk down the road, almost as if they are floating. Ama refers to them as messengers. The two women then go inside.
As they do, a storm starts. It is a hurricane. They try to board up the house. Rattlesnakes start to come toward Ama’s door, but Ama shuts the door on them.
Omishto realizes that she has not tied up her boat. She runs to do so but struggles to get the boat ashore as she slips in the mud. When the boat is ashore, Omishto ties it to a tree. Suddenly, the wind is calm. It starts up even harder.
Omishto is clinging to the ground. The wind stops again. While it is still calm, Omishto tries to run back to Ama’s house. The wind starts up again. Omishto can see Ama blown against the outside of the house. She also sees Methuselah fall. After the storm, Omishto realizes that her dress is in a tree, and she is naked. Snakes were flung against Ama’s house during the storm. Janie Soto and Annie Hide, old women of the Taiga tribe, would say this is a good sign.
Omishto goes to the shed to get a shovel because she wants to bury the dead animals. Ama gets Omishto a dress. Ama sees a deer with a broken leg and tells Omishto that they are going to follow it. Omishto thinks they are going to hunt it. Without knowing what it means, Omishto says, “I know what will happen” (44). In Chapter 3, “Take,” the storm is over and a flood begins.
The water rises into Ama’s house. When the water recedes, Ama sweeps up the mud. Omishto falls asleep. Ama wakes her. Ama begins to pack some things and tells Omishto it is time to go. Omishto does not understand where they are going. Although she does not want to, Omishto follows Ama. They walk a while as Ama follows the tracks of the deer. When they reach the Taiga birthplace, Ama listens for the deer. At this point, Omishto relates to the reader the story of how the panther entered this world through a hole pecked by a bird. Omishto has lost her sense of time.
Omishto hears a sound in the opposite direction of the deer. There are footprints from the panther. Omishto then realizes that they are hunting the panther, not the deer. The panther is an endangered species, and killing one is against the law.
They follow the deer and panther for another distance. Ama says that they cannot let the panther die from illness. The panther stops for a drink and notices Ama and Omishto. The panther wants them to follow, and they do. Ama sees the panther again.
She shoots the cat with a rifle. Omishto believes that in killing the panther, Ama has killed herself. Omishto falls asleep. As Omishto wakes up, Ama tells her to tell the truth when she is questioned by the police.
The panther was very sick and hungry. Ama begins to skin it, and Omishto notices that the panther’s fur is flattened around its neck. Omishto is not sure killing the panther was right. Ama tells Omishto again that she must tell the truth. As they make their way back to Ama’s house, they throw the dead panther over the back of a horse that belongs to a man named Willard. Omishto will not touch the panther.
When the women reach Ama’s house, Ama again tells Omishto to tell the truth when asked about the panther. Ama also asks Omishto not to mention the fact that the panther was sick. Omishto agrees and falls asleep. The police arrive at Ama’s house as Omishto is awakening. Ama knew that they would come and arrest her.
Ama willingly goes with the sheriff. The sheriff asks Ama where the panther is, but Ama will not answer. The officers question Omishto, but she does not know what Ama did with the panther because Omishto was asleep. The next morning, Omishto calls her sister Donna to pick her up at Ama’s house. Willard’s horse has followed Omishto to the payphone. Omishto returns to Ama’s house to bury a dead horse.
As Chapter 4, “Descent,” opens, Omishto is still burying the dead horse. Donna arrives to take Omishto back home. Donna tells Omishto that the family was trying to find her after the storm. Janie Soto had been to town, and Donna gave her a ride back to Kili. Omishto realizes that her mother and sister know what happened in the woods with Ama.
Donna says that when Janie was in town, she carried a white swan feather with her. She was probably close to town because someone was hurt. When the girls arrive at their mother’s house, the mother tells Omishto that she knows what happened, but does not understand why. Omishto’s mother tells her that the panther is endangered, and that killing one is a federal crime.
Omishto knows this. Omishto’s stepfather is unhappy with her. Omishto takes a bath and stays there until it is time to go to sleep. Omishto wakes up once during the night.
In the morning, Omishto walks to Ama’s house to finish burying the horse. She notices that Willard’s horse is still at the house. As Omishto digs, the horse falls into the hole. She cleans herself off and goes into Ama’s house. In Chapter 5, “Judgment,” Omishto goes to church with her mother. Omishto does not believe in the religion.
Omishto is called to the front of the church so the members can lay their hands on her. They want to heal her. The next morning is Omishto’s first day back at school after the incident. When she arrives at school, the word “killer” is written on her locker. As Omishto walks into her homeroom, the students whisper loud enough for her to hear. Omishto’s teachers even look at her differently.
While at lunch, Donna tells Omishto that it will all pass, and people will forget. Omishto’s best friend will not talk to her. When Omishto returns home, she cuts her hair. Omishto has an English assignment. She must write an autobiographical essay.
She writes one that explains that she is a Taiga from the Panther Clan. She also tries to explain why Ama killed the panther. She writes that Ama is the most important person in her life. When she is finished, Omishto rips up the paper and decides not to turn the assignment in at all.
The next day, instead of going to school, Omishto walks to Ama’s house. Omishto hopes that she will be there, but Omishto knows she will not. During the next few days, Omishto and Ama are in court. On the way to court, a hailstorm wrecks Omishto’s mom’s car.
As Omishto reaches the courthouse door, reporters try to ask her questions. In the courtroom, a collar and a rifle sit on a table as evidence. Ama is there. Omishto is called to the stand, and the attorney questions her about the panther. Omishto answers the questions truthfully.
During the next day in court, Omishto is questioned again. The attorney reveals that the rifle on the table is not the one used to kill the panther. It is the rifle Ama took from the boys who treed the panther. The next day in court, the Taiga tribal chairman speaks in Ama’s defense.
After the chairman, Ama is questioned. She tells the truth and that she knew what she was doing. She was not crazy. During the next day in court, Annie Hide is questioned. Janie Soto is also questioned. Janie says that Ama should have given them the panther’s hide.
When the trial is over, there is not enough evidence to convict Ama of killing the panther. After the trial, Omishto’s mother has a reporter come to the house to talk to Omishto. Omishto refuses to talk with him. She runs out the door and to Ama’s house. As Chapter 6, “The Place of Old Law,” opens, two young Taiga men are picking up Omishto. They are taking her to the place above Kili swamp.
The old Taiga people want to talk to Omishto alone. One of the men mentions to Omishto something about her dead brother, Jerry. When they arrive at the place above Kili swamp, the two men take Omishto to a clearing where the old Taiga.
Ama and Janie Soto are also sitting near the fire. An old man named Joseph Post is also at the fire. The elders ask Omishto to tell her side of what happened out in the woods with the panther. When Omishto tells the story this time, she provides more detail. The elders ask her a few questions, and Joseph points out that Ama did not bring the panther to the old Taiga people as she was supposed to. Omishto finally understands that Ama did not want to tell the old people that the panther was sick because it would have broken their hearts.
When Omishto is through with her story, the old Taiga people talk among themselves about Ama’s sentence. Omishto cannot understand them because they are speaking in their native language. They say something to Ama, and she stands up and backs out of the circle. She is told to leave.
After the meeting, Omishto runs home. Her mother asks her what happened, but Omishto does not know because she could not understand the Taiga people’s language. Omishto packs her things, but her mother does not want her to leave and punches her. Omishto runs out of the house to her boat.
She then decides to go look for Ama. The reader learns that Ama has been sentenced to four years of walking. In Chapter 7, “Oni: What They Believe,” Omishto is sitting in her boat that is surrounded by fog. Omishto then explains what the word Oni means to the Taiga people. The Taiga people believe that Oni is the wind and air. It is like a god. They believe that all the spirits in the world gather in the air. As Omishto sits in her boat, she recalls the meeting with the old Taiga people. The Taiga people believe that Oni is unwilling to carry sickness.
Oni gives the Taiga people life. Annie Hide believes that words are very powerful. She says that Oni was the word that the panther said to create people. Omishto says that she hears Annie Hide whisper to her in the air. Omishto also discusses her mother’s religion. Omishto’s mother thinks Omishto loves Ama more than she loves her mother. As the fog lifts from Omishto’s boat, Omishto thinks about Ama. Omishto understands that Ama had to kill the panther. Ama believed it was her destiny because she was a friend with the panther. Omishto then goes on to tell about Sisa.
After this, Omishto makes her way to Ama’s house. Omishto is scared while she is there because she thinks someone is trying to break in. In Chapter 8, “They Come to Me,” Omishto takes care of Ama’s house. A man visits the house and says he wants to buy it.
Omishto tells the man it is her house, and the man leaves. Several days pass, and Omishto washes her clothes in the tub. She hangs them outside to dry. Omishto sits on the porch and tells her father to come to her.
Omishto repairs the house. She goes to the gas station, but it is closed. A sheriff tries to talk Omishto into going back home. He is also looking for Ama.
Omishto says she does not know where Ama is. Omishto’s stepfather told the sheriff Ama was missing. The sheriff does not believe Omishto. The sheriff tells Omishto that she should go back to her mother’s house.
Omishto says that she is staying at Ama’s house. The next day, Omishto’s stepfather, Herm, arrives at Ama’s house. He tells Omishto that she has to tell the truth. Omishto says that she has.
He threatens to hit her but leaves. Omishto goes inside and sleeps. Omishto’s mother visits her at Ama’s house. She wants to know when Omishto is going back to school and back home. Omishto says that she is going to live her own life.
Omishto tells her mother to go home. Omishto goes inside. Two days later, Donna visits. Donna says that Mother cannot stop crying. She also says that the preacher of her mother’s church was arrested. Donna says that people think Omishto is crazy, and they are sending a doctor to her.
Omishto tells Donna that she is dropping out of school. Donna leaves. Omishto sleeps and dreams of the panther. During the night, three boys approach Ama’s house. The boys are looking for Ama because they want to punish her.
Omishto leaves through a back window as the boys throw rocks at Ama’s house. The next morning, Omishto goes to look for the rifle that was used to kill the panther. She digs up a rifle box, but it is empty. She also finds red beads that belong to Janie Soto.
Omishto’s mother visits her again. Omishto says that she is not waiting for Ama to return. Omishto knows she will not. Omishto tells her mother that she is still not going back to her mother’s house. Omishto’s mother reveals that she has been to Kili. She tells Omishto that the doctor was Herm’s idea.
She also says that she is leaving Herm. In the morning, Omishto sits outside. Annie Hide is walking toward Ama’s house. Omishto smiles at her.
The two women go inside. Annie tells Omishto that she did not want to send Ama away. Annie also says that she saw Ama a few days ago. Annie stays the night at Ama’s house with Omishto.
Annie leaves in the morning. In Chapter 9, “What I Have Left,” Omishto sits outside. She begins to walk to Kili. On her way, Omishto reflects on her life. She believes that the world is dying. When she reaches Kili, Omishto goes to Annie and Janie’s house.
Before she enters, Omishto hears something in the bushes. It is a healthy panther. She tells the panther to run, and Omishto returns to Ama’s house. She goes to the payphone and calls her mother’s house.
She asks Donna to pick up Ama’s animals because she is going home. Donna agrees because she thinks Omishto is moving back to her mother’s house. While she is sitting on Ama’s porch, Omishto sees the four messenger women walk by again. She walks with them to Kili. The people of Kili are waiting for Omishto when she arrives.
Omishto dances with the women. Power shows many facts about Native American culture. Hogan uses various characters and their struggles to bring this culture to light.