Sissy Roberts believes she has a family curse: being a listener. Just like her mother, people tell her the bad things she doesn’t want to know, things they wouldn’t confess to a priest. Sissy is a young Lakota woman with dreams of going to college, but since she can’t figure out how to pay for it, she works as a waitress and plays guitar and sings on Saturday nights with the Red Bird All-Indian Traveling Band. The group’s handle is also the name of Frances Washburn’s third novel, set in the year 1969.
As the book opens, the band is playing in a rough bar north of Pine Ridge in Scenic, South Dakota for the 4th of July rodeo and dance. After the raucous night of drinking and dancing is over, Buffalo Ames is found dead along the railroad tracks near the bar. Because Sissy is the person who hears everyone’s confessions, she’s drawn into the FBI investigation into Buffalo Ames’ death.
The Red Bird All-Indian Traveling Band is more than a murder mystery, though. It’s the story of a strong, young woman at the beginning of a journey to fulfill her potential at a time when American Indian communities are on the verge of historic change.
Frances Washburn is an associate professor and director of graduate studies in the American Indian studies at the University of Arizona. She was born and raised on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Her two previous novels are Elsie's Business and The Sacred White Turkey. Washburn joined Dakota Midday and discussed The Red Bird All-Indian Traveling Band.