Before the new nuclear power plant can be built, the power company must help the Navajo reclaim a long-unused uranium mine. The plan is to collapse the old shafts and refill the area with new soil, but the first explosions trigger unplanned subsidiary collapses. Ella Clah, attending the dedication and purification ceremony, acts quickly when she sees a young child sliding into the exposed tunnels. She saves his life but is herself trapped underground.
A few days later, Ella, little the worse for her nightmarish near-death experience, is checking out reports of vandalism and arson. It seems that gun control advocates on the Rez have made some enemies-enemies who soon kill for the first time, when an arson fire claims the life of the wife of a Navajo Councilmember. The home of local radio host George Branch--who may have incited the fatal arson-burns to the ground, destroying all of Branch's personal possessions, including his extensive gun collection.
Ella's investigations are hampered by what happened to her at the uranium site. Both her brother Clifford, a Navajo medicine man, and her cousin and fellow Navajo Police officer, Justine Goodluck, are convinced that Ella wasn't just unconscious when she was rescued. To all appearances, they say, Ella was dead. Justine believes that Ella's survival was a miracle; Clifford says that his hataalii
abilities showed her wandering wind spirit the way back to her body. Regardless, traditionalist Navajo are reluctant to be near or even speak to Ella, fearing that since she was dead, she has been contaminated with chindi and become evil. Even some of her fellow police officers are uncomfortable in Ella's presence.
If she cannot interview witnesses and can't work with other cops, what is Ella to do? She finds solace in the unquestioning and unchanging love of her young daughter and the unflagging support of her brother, who nonetheless recommends an older hataalii who may be able to perform a special blessing ceremony for Ella. Still, it's clear that Ella's life has been changed, perhaps permanently, and that she may no longer be an effective police officer.
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