Saul Indian Horse has hit bottom. His last binge almost killed him, and now he’s a reluctant resident in a treatment centre for alcoholics, surrounded by people he’s sure will never understand him. But Saul wants peace, and he grudgingly comes to see that he’ll find it only through telling his story. With him, readers embark on a journey back through the life he’s led as a northern Ojibway, with all its joys and sorrows.
With compassion and insight, author Richard Wagamese traces through his fictional characters the decline of a culture and a cultural way. For Saul, taken forcibly from the land and his family when he’s sent to residential school, salvation comes for a while through his incredible gifts as a hockey player. But in the harsh realities of 1960s Canada, he battles obdurate racism and the spirit-destroying effects of cultural alienation and displacement. Indian Horse unfolds against the bleak loveliness of northern Ontario, all rock, marsh, bog and cedar. Wagamese writes with a spare beauty, penetrating the heart of a remarkable Ojibway man.
Oh my goodness, I just finished Richard Wagamese’s novel Indian Horse and hands down it is one of the best books I have EVER read. Every Canadian should read this book. It is beautifully written and, it was a hard read. The cruelty the indigenous people faced is…for someone who spends their time with words, I am at a loss to find words to adequately describe the abuse they endured at the hands of the church in the residential schools and the racism they encountered outside of their community—the best I can do is say it was a heartbreaking read and even that seems inadequate. There were sections of the book where I thought…I can’t read this, and I don’t know if I can watch the movie.
Wagamese’s novel flawlessly illustrates the beauty of the indigenous culture and the depths the Canadian Government—with the assistance of the church, went to destroy it. But, it’s also a story of survival with Saul struggling to find his place in a world after his roots have been severed. I will say it again ALL Canadians should read this book. Unfortunately, we cannot undo history, but we can come to a better understanding of the impact the residential schools had and is still having on the First Nations people.
I could not put this book down. To illustrate this point I have a little story to share with you:
When I went to TO this week, I brought Indian Horse with me to read on the GO-Train on the way home. As soon as the train pulled away from Union Station, I cracked the book open. I was in deep because the next thing I heard was the announcement for the Aurora stop and I thought great! almost home and went back to reading. I shed many a tear on that Go ride and the next announcement I heard was, “last stop train is terminating at Union Station!”
That’s right, I was back at Union Station. I learned the hard way that after a certain hour the train does not go all the way up to Barrie rather, it terminates in Aurora and from there one must take a bus to all other destinations on the line. Unfortunately, for me when I heard the Aurora announcement (or part of it) the train wasn’t retired for the night as it headed south again with a very unaware me reading away.
If you know me this story will not surprise you…it is a very crystal thing to do. In my defense, I will say, normally (and normal for me is once a week over the course of this summer) I take the train. In the morning, I get on at the first stop and I’m very alert because I get off at a station mid-route. And, in the evening I’m the last stop therefore, it’s not necessary for me to devote my undivided attention to each stop along the way for fear of missing my stop. However, this commute was different because I didn’t go directly home I went down town and had a lovely meal on the patio with a dear friend hence, my timing was different.
Compounding the situation is I was so engrossed in Indian Horse I didn’t hear the announcer state the train terminated in Aurora and once everyone had disembarked and the new crew of riders were comfortably settled--I still managed to miss the 2nd announcement stating the train was departing to Union Station. What can I say….?! It’s a good book. Wagamese had ALL of my attention and then some.
Upon discovering my mistake, yes…I was a little frazzled and rushed to make connections but because I was riding with Wagamese I was not upset by the little detour. F.Y.I. I left Union Station (the 1st time) at 7:40 pm and I arrived home at 11:50 pm! Just a bit of a commuting marathon. I was tired, but my mind was stimulated.
I’d like to take the opportunity to thank Wagamese for writing Indian Horse; Saul will stay with me. For those who do not like to read, you should watch the movie. I too will watch the movie and in all seriousness, I will not watch during any kind of commute because who knows where I’ll end up.
To all residential school survivors and their families, I am so very sorry. I wish you peace in your journey back to your beautiful culture. To all people in this world, may we one day learn from our mistakes and walk this Earth as loving and compassionate beings.
You may purchase Indian Horse at: Amazon
Activist, World traveller. Fan of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.