Littler Bird Jensen lives with her two younger twin brothers, Jeremy and Russell, and their cousin Tim on a Navajo reserve. Her mother, Mavis, is a beautiful Cherokee woman and a descendant of one of the families who walked the Trail of Tears. Mavis tries to maintain an atmosphere of pride and dignity for her family, but Little Bird's violent, alcoholic father Paul has the family living in fear. Constant fights with Paul eventually wear Mavis down, and she succumbs to his cycle of substance abuse. During the drunken parties that often occur at the Jensen home, fifteen year old Little Bird is repeatedly sexually abused by one of her father's buddies. Driven to the brink by her turbulent family life, Little Bird finally runs away.
Little Bird ends up in Albuquerque where she meets J, nineteen, a street-wise tough-talking half-breed. J befriends Little Bird and introduces her to a life of drugs and prostitution. Eventually, J and Little Bird are arrested. Little Bird, still an adolescent, is sent to a foster home. The Sullivans, Little Bird's foster family, do their best to give her every opportunity, and she finally begins to lead a normal middle-class life. She tries to forget about her life on the streets and focuses on building a new one.
While doing a research paper in school on the Cherokee people, Little Bird learns about the Trail of Tears and the horrific experiences that the Native people of American have endured. As she learns, she begins to understand her father's plight. Little Bird decides that she wants to return home and confront her past. Before she leaves the city, Little Bird finds J and convinces her to come on the road trip.
When they arrive at the Jensen home, Mavis tells Little Bird that her father committed suicide. With Paul's passing, Little Bird convinces her family to seek out their Cherokee roots. Together they decide to travel along the Trail of Tears. They caravan in two beat up old 'Indian' cars and make their way across the country from New Mexico to Oklahoma to Georgia. Along the way, they slowly reconnect with one another.
Little Bird goes on a journey of the soul and realizes the importance of her cultural identity and her individual identity. She also comes to realize that the most important thing is not where you are in the world, but knowing who you are and what your beliefs are. Little Bird discovers that you have to map your inner journey to find your own Native Land.
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