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The bulwark of strength, self-sacrifice and love, Ida protects herself with an icy shell of fierceness, that she built while Christine was a baby. She admires beauty wherever she sees it and thus is doomed to admire her motherís youngest sister, Aunt Clara. She is not afraid to sacrifice herself for something she believes is worthwhile or to protect another. She had offered to take care of her ailing mother, but her father refused the offer. When Clara takes on the job, but then becomes pregnant by Lecon, Ida doesnít wait to be asked to go along with the scheme of pretending she is the babyís mother even when the priest tries to tell her what it will do to her future.
Years later, Ida sacrifices herself again, first out of love for Willard Pretty Dog, and then out of personal pride which will not let her accept marriage under terms of obligation or duty on his part. She keeps both secrets, never telling anyone that Christine and Lee have different fathers, one of them her own father, and the other Willard Pretty Dog.
Ida is a fighter who will go to any lengths to keep her own, even while she tries to don a cold exterior as a shield against the pain of possible loss. She pretends to be much harder than she is and gives herself away to Christine as well as Rayona with subtle, spontaneous gestures. She holds fights to keep Christine both at birth and later when Clara tries to take her. She watches her closely in her obsession with religion and approaches Father Hurlburt when she thinks Christine is about to hurt herself. She holds baby Rayona at the funeral and later takes her a doll. When Christine drops Rayone off and runs, Ida pulls in her in as if to absorb Rayís anger and frustration at being left. And while Ida tries to pretend she doesnít care, she tries to seek out the whereabouts of the runaway Ray.
Finally, Ida is the magnet that pulls the other women back to the reservation and to each other. She at first refuses to accept Christineís illness, but once she does face it, she makes sure Christine knows that itís okay to call if she needs anything. One gets the sense by the end of the book that the same power of love which kept Ida silent for so many years will also enable her to tell Christine and Rayona the truth of their identity. She seems to have reached the point in life where her need for love and acceptance will overcome her fear of loss.
Clara is pretty and capable, but she is also a self-centered manipulator who will lie to make herself look good regardless of the effect it might have on someone else. She is very shallow, a flat character who rewards Ida with smiles only when Ida has confided her deepest secrets. She also lacks morals, first in sleeping with the man whose wife she is supposed to be tending, then in conniving to avoid the shame of an illegitimate child and lying to the nuns about the childís conception, and finally stooping to the attempted sale of Christine after 4 years of ignoring her.
Clara is weak; when she sees that Ida and Father Hurlburt have beaten her at her own games, she becomes helpless and sniveling. But she is also deceitful and stays in contact with Ida just enough to keep alive the fear that she might try again to take Christine away.