Identity politics that are taken on the road result in the shift or deepening of meaning of what it means to be "Cheyenne" for the two travelers in Powwow Highway. While on the road, the duo feel they must be representatives for their heritage, although this means different things for each man. Both men outwardly posit their constructed "Cheyenne" identity, whether it is intentional or not.
For Red Bow, this means assembling an entire tribe's collection of hurts and memories to weave an identity formulated on pain, anger, and resentment. Red Bow actively seeks to externally exhibit the havoc wreaked upon a people, both in the past (Wounded Knee, etc.) and the present (Governmentâ€™s desire to mine uranium on reservations), by constantly displaying a fiercely angry persona. Philbert however, does not focus on the outward influences upon the reservation, but rather on the identity of the Cheyenne prior to outside influence. Philbertâ€™s identity politics operate independently of the negative interactions with government/white man/off-reservation life.
Being on the road together forces the two men to deal with the reaction of both the â€œotherâ€? and those who share a similar identity. This mobilization of the identity places it in situations where it must be questioned/confronted. One such situation occurs at the Powwow in Pine City. This gathering illustrates a convergence with the identity that Red Bow has come to embrace, and the one Philbert embodies. Attending the Powwow are Native Americans donning traditional powwow attire, listening to tribal music, and celebrating the culture which Philbert has embraced wholeheartedly. Also in attendance are several embodiments of the transgressions against Native peoples. The severely disabled Vietnam Vet and tribal members turned against one another represent the negative side of Native existence that Red Bow includes in his formulation of native identity.
While at the Powwow, Red Bow has a brief conversation with the Vietnam Veteran. In this exchange, Red Bow posits an attitude toward Native identity that alludes to the pointlessness of celebrating a savagely destroyed culture. The Veteran however, points out (using very few words) that Red Bow has allowed the hurts to overshadow the beauty of his culture, creating an identity focused so much on destructive anger that it has stunted future growth and ceased honoring the past.
Without going on the road, Red Bow would not have been forced to confront the identity that Philbert wholly embraces. On the reservation, Red Bow found Philbertâ€™s identity politics childish and silly. However, upon seeing them withstand the confrontations on the road, Red Bow was forced to admit that he must find a balance between love of native culture and acknowledging the transgressions toward Native communities while working to save and repair what remains.