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.
Richard Wagamese was one of Canada's foremost Native authors and storytellers. He worked as a professional writer since 1979. He was a newspaper columnist and reporter, radio and television broadcaster and producer, documentary producer and the author of twelve titles from major Canadian publishers.
This book should be required reading for every Canadian. In its story of a survivor of residential schools it takes us through the harrowing experience of First Nations Children in a Manitoban school. In these schools literally tens of thousands children died from physical and sexual abuse, starvation, and treatable disease with the full awareness of the Canadian government. IN my opinion, crimes of this magnitude require nothing short of what Germany has done to take responsibility for the suffering it unleashed upon Jews during the Nazi regime -- a policy of education, public monuments, financial compensation, museums. etc. To read Wagamese's story of a survivor is to understand why one might think these things. This book accompanied me through a sleepless night. I couldn't put it down. There is a mixture here of Ojibway spiritual/religious tradition, hockey, and engagement with racism. This book belongs to the annual Canada Reads debate (http://www.cbc.ca/books/canadareads/). Its presence on the list of contenders is deserved, but more importantly its presence on Canadians' bookshelves is required.
This book was incredibly easy to read but dealt with incredibly difficult topics. I read it for my Canadian Literature course where we've discussed "imagined communities" the concept that the communities that we live in (cities, cultures, nations) are all just made up and perpetuated by successive peoples agreeing to continue that imagination. This is both good (it helps maintain tradition and culture) but also negative, because it can work as selective history in which important things can be ignored or not-included. This book deals with one of these excluded histories, the very true history of residential schools in Canada. It's something that's either not taught or barely taught in schools and is largely stepped over in the telling of Canadian history, but is something that tortured thousands of peoples and continues to affect thousands of lives. Reading this was incredibly heartbreaking because of the truths that were revealed, but felt incredibly important because I hadn't heard them before. It was very well written, very straight forward, and in the end made me cry. (Only the fourth ever book to make me cry!)
When I started listening to this audiobook, my friend Catherine commented “Hard on the heart but…” I couldn’t agree more. It is definitely hard on the heart, and there are certainly a number of buts that make it so very worth reading. There are many moments in this story that hurt my heart, that made my stomach turn, and there are also moments of love, of caring, of the depth of friendship that did my heart good. There are moments of joy when Saul Indian Horse discovers hockey and many moments of sadness and rage as he faces losses and prejudice. When the novel opens, he tells us that he’s a “hard core drunk “ in rehab, encouraged to tell his story because his counselor believes that “Many hearts beating together makes us stronger “.
This is so beautifully written and although fiction, it has such an intimate feel, I thought I was listening to a memoir. The narrator is fabulous. I wanted to read it now because Canadian residential schools have been in the news recently with hundreds of unmarked graves discovered at some of the locations where the schools stood. This story is so relevant and depicts what that experience may have been like for so many children stolen from their families. Their stories deserve to be told. We should read them.
“It was the school they hid us from “
“I grew up afraid of the white man . As it turns out I had reason to be.”
“I read once that there are holes in the universe that swallow all light , all bodies . St Jerome’s took all the light from my world .”
These children lived under the threats of beatings, fear and the horrible reality of predator priests and nuns visiting in the night, suicides and “row on row of unmarked graves. It’s not for me to tell any of the story except to say that hockey and then drink helped Saul forget until he remembered. I highly recommend reading this, because we also must remember.
It is almost impossible if one lives in the United States to be unaware of our border crisis with Mexico. Children separated from their mothers, each sent to a different place, sometimes different states. This story takes place in the sixties and represents another time those in charge. In this case the Catholic Church, thought it was a good and necessary to take Indian children from their parents and wipe out their culture, enforce Christianity. Saul, Indian Horse is only eight when he is taken as and sent to St. Jeromes.
Terrible place, where Christian mercy was here, was not in evidence. The things they did to these young children, the things they endured. So hard to read, so horrible to contemplate. Why does this country, though this took place in Ottawa, it happened here too, do the same stupid things over and over, expect a different outcome. Believe that is the definition of insanity.
Anyway in one way Saul is fortunate, he discovers and is good story hockey. It came with a high price, one we really don't understand until later in the book. Still, he carries many mental scars and as he grows older he can no longer shove them aside. This is his story, and it represents I believe the story of many such young Indian children.
Such a fantastic writer this author is, the words just flow with nary a stutter. Does help if you like hockey, but even if you don't Saul's story is worth reading. Injustices should always be acknowledged regardless of when they happened, of so I believe.
It was an honour to read “Indian Horse” by Richard Wagamese. As a reader who wants to encourage others to go out and get this important piece of work, I am breaking the rule about reviewers getting personal with the material. As I worked my way through the staggering story of Saul Indian Horse , there was an immediate flooding of memories...his and mine. I was a 6 year old Dutch immigrant who attended a Catholic school in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. At that time, there were Aboriginal children in my class who were treated horribly by the teachers. They were always getting strapped for speaking their native language or having messy desks or whatever. It seemed to me even at such a young age, that these children were being picked on. By the time I was in grade 3, my teacher even went so far as to tell my dad, that I really shouldn’t be hanging out with Aboriginal kids. I can remember overhearing my dad and mom discussing it late at night while I was in bed. My dad was furious that this teacher had the nerve to say such a thing and he had told her so. Another memory of mine was that these kids were all in foster care with white families in our area. I didn’t get it! What was wrong with their own families? In later years, when I was well into my 40s, I ran across a small paragraph in a Canadian school history book that bluntly mentioned the governmental policy. I was shocked and started looking up information about this unbelievably abhorrent policy. Besides the residential schools , there was a policy called the “Sixties Scoop” where aboriginal children were forcibly removed from their families and placed by child welfare agencies. Who knew that this could happen in a so-called democratic society? Canadians , in general , are in the dark about this policy. They are starting to learn of the horrors of the residential schools but it is through the poignant writing of Mr. Wagamese that our eyes will be opened to the reality of the cultural devastation that has occurred to literally generations of Aboriginal families. And what about the horrors perpetrated in the name of religion. The hypocrisy of it all is enough to make one scream. How can people treat others horribly and use religion as a right to do so? My heart ached and I cried when I read the story of “Indian Horse” but the beauty of resilience and survivor’s strength is amazing. Hockey was Saul’s love and it created a place for him to escape to, not only physically but mentally as well. The description of the game is breathtaking. I think that this book should be required reading for senior elementary as well as highschool students. Every Canadian needs to be informed about what happened. History is important. We cannot change it unfortunately, but we certainly can help change the future. Says Saul..”I just want to work on the idea of what’s possible.”
Fred: “They scooped out our insides, Saul. We’re not responsible for that. We’re not responsible for what happened to us. None of us are. But our healing ..that’s up to us. That’s what saved me. Knowing it was my game.” If you want to read a story that tells a painful truth through the character of Indian Horse, then read this book. If you want to read a story that describes a powerful hopefulness, then read this book. It is a book that all Canadians should read.
Wagamese envelopes me into this story. It’s hard to believe this was written in 2012. It’s only been on my radar since all the news of the the recent residential graves have been discovered in Canada. The reality of Indian children taken from their families to residential schools where they had their culture physically and mentally stamped out of them. The shame we should have as Catholic Canadians.
But there is beauty and magic out of this annihilation of both traditions and spirit. Saul Indian Horse, is an Ojibway child, taken from his family and put into one of these residential schools at the age of 8. It is here he finds his escape through his love of hockey, team camaraderie and community. It is through this skill, he is able to escape the brutal conditions the children suffered. It is through this vision, he is given the opportunity when a scout comes along to play for a junior A team in Toronto.
But the past will continue to haunt. The discrimination will continue to be felt until he realizes he can’t move forward until he faces the tragic past. Only then can he reclaim himself and his love of the sport and be at one with nature again. 5 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
After recently reading a psychological thriller that left me cold....I wanted to read a meaningful-novel. And wow....”Indian Horse”, by Richard Wagamese fit the bill.
*Saul Indian Horse* and his family were from the Fish Clan of the northern Ojibway, the ‘Anishinabeg’. They made their home in the territories along the Winnipeg River, where the river opens wide before crossing into Manitoba, then onto the rugged spine of northern Ontario.
At the start of this novel...Saul - [the adult Saul], was in a treatment rehabilitation center. He was sent to ‘The New Dawn Centre’ for alcoholism treatment. When we first meet Saul, he had been there a month. His body and mine became stronger the longer he went without drinking but counselors told Saul, that if he wanted to live in peace he needed to tell his story. Saul says: “Our people have rituals and ceremonies meant to bring us vision. I have never participated in any of them, but I have seen things. I have been lifted up and out at this physical world into a place where time and space have a different rhythm. I always remained within the borders of this world, yet I had the eyes of one born into a different plane. Our medicine people would call me a seer. But I was in the thrall of a power I never understood. It left me years ago, and the loss of that gift has been my greatest sorrow. Sometimes it feels as though I have spent my entire life on a trek to rediscover it”.
Saul tells us grueling stories from his childhood and teen years. You know — I just don’t read ‘enough’ stories about just how tragic it was for Native Americans.... I pledge to read more. Just like the Holocaust, we can’t forget what was done to so many innocent people!
And THIS BOOK SHOULD BE REQUIRED READING!!!
When Saul was is eight years old, he watched his sister, be stolen. Soon his brother went missing. His mother weeped. His father drank heavily. But along with his ( wonderful) grandmother....and uncles ....they had to keep running....away from the white man. I can’t imagine the fear ... My heart went out to ‘mom’, too.... To lose TWO children had to be unbearable!!!!!
Into the woods they went... Saul Indian Horse and his family took us on one scary adventure through the Canadian wilderness. The descriptions were so darn vivid. Some mornings his family woke to snow....frozen themselves. Canoeing - running from the white man - singing - praying - drinking - holding onto their tribal beliefs.... constantly looking for safety and shelter, became a way of life. They ate off the land....game, fish, and berries. Surviving was the goal.....but unfortunately....it was only Saul, (just a child) who survived.
After the horrific accident which took his family ... [a boulder hit their canoe] — Saul was sent to a boarding school with other Native Americans and Native Alaskan children.
At the school.... It wasn’t ‘all’ bad.... but I wouldn’t go so far to say it was nourishing either. The best part was Saul’s discovery of hockey. He became an avid, enthusiastic, and skillful hockey player. Later.... He ends up being a player for the NHL Things didn’t become all rosy-happy...just because of Saul’s - short lived- NHL hockey success.
His childhood damage couldn’t be easily erased with skates, a stick, and a puck. But, Saul was good. Being on a team as a standout player, he knew his team was counting on his skills to win. So he played - had a passion for it .... but unresolve problems kept surfacing: anger rages, and sabotages to himself
Saul’s - entire ‘coming-of-age’ story will make readers cry...but to say much more would fall into spoilers....[there are surprises]....
“Indian Horse” becomes a hard novel to put down. I happen to like hockey- but even if readers don’t - hockey is kinda a metaphor to the larger issues at hand.
No way around it, this is a sad novel ......but with fascinating/uplifting moments too. ( not even sure how I feel about the happy uplifting moments)....
Saul’s self-sabotaging.....drinking to cope....was heartbreaking....yet it was understandable.
My gosh..what a story this was!!! It’s been made into a movie - but I haven’t seen it yet.
A terrific contribution to our Indigenous friends! Written beautifully....with empathy- compassion- adventure- and emotion.
“Their spirit still speaks from the trees”.
“You’ve come to learn to carry this place within you. This place of beginnings and endings”.
“We’re not responsible for what happened to us. None of us are. But our healing—that’s up to us. That’s what saved me. Knowing it was my game”.
Author, Richard Wagamese (1955-2017), was one of Canada’s foremost writers, and one of the leading indigenous writers in North America. He was the author of several acclaimed memoirs and more than a dozen novels including “Medicine Walk” and “Dream Wheels”.... Books I’m adding to read.
This coming of age tale captures some important truths about the hell that a lot of Indian kids went through in the residential school system in Canada, which according to the man who founded the first such school in Pennsylvania in 1879 were designed to “kill the Indian, save the man.” By forcibly taking children away from their families, banning use of their language and cultural practices, they were could theoretically be assimilated for their own good into white society. Instead, most had their identities ground down and never built back up and large numbers were subject to physical and sexual abuse.
We meet Saul Indian Horse as a young adult in an alcohol treatment program being tasked to write his story as part of his therapy. We get a window into his life with his loving Ojibwe family as a boy, immersed in their connections with nature, cultural traditions, and spirituality. They try to keep him from being forced into a residential school by taking him to a remote camp in Manitoba. But a disaster happens, and he ends up being placed in such a school in Ontario run by Catholics. Somehow the strength of his roots, especially from his grandmother, helps him survive the depredations and abuse, and he begins find an outlet in hockey as a means to fulfillment.
This part of the story is outstanding, very moving and lyrical the way he was empowered to fly and excel. Their team begins to win most games with other schools, and, with the help of a particular priest, he gets a chance to leave the school for a position with a team in a First Nations league and a placement with a supportive foster family. Playing outdoors in the winter makes him tough, but the house of his soul is built on sand. When he advances to the minor leagues on a path to a spot with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the crushing racism finally undermines his simple love of the sport and the violence that is part of the game begins to corrupt his spirit.
As a reader, we don’t have any way to digest the adversities that he has been through. The perpetrators are largely a faceless lot (with one big exception) whom we don’t get to know or understand in their motives, that banality of evil that we sometimes experience in portrayals of the Nazis behind the Holocaust. I felt at times it was too much of a morality tale without recourse to how or why nuns and priests could do what they did. And I felt guilty for being uplifted by the hope that success in hockey was going to save him. We know from the beginning he has fallen into alcoholism somewhere along the line. By reading what he is writing while in treatment, we get engaged in fulfilling a possible pathway out. You can’t really walk in another man’s shoes, but the illusion here that I can is pretty damn good.
It's only March but I can already guarantee this will be in my top books of 2022. Considering Medicine Walk was my favorite read of 2021, it's safe to say Richard Wagamese is quickly becoming one of my all-time favorite authors.
This book made me cry uncontrollably in the end, which has literally never happened before. I think once or twice I've gotten misty-eyed while reading a book, but no book has ever moved me as much as the last 20 pages of this novel.
The story follows Saul Indian Horse, a young Ojibway boy growing up in 1960s Canada. He's taken from his family and put in a residential school where he falls in love with hockey. We hear from Saul later in his life as he recounts his upbringing, the trauma he endures, and how hockey helped him cope while he and his fellow students suffered at the hands of the clergy that run the residential school.
If you know anything about the history of residential schools in Canada, you will understand how difficult this book is to read at times. Trigger warnings for . However, it's an incredibly important story to tell and Wagamese does it so powerfully and respectfully.
I absolutely loved reading from Saul's perspective. He felt like a real person, and the journey he goes on, both externally and internally, was profound. It's because of that depth Wagamese wrote into Saul's character, and how we were able to see him through his highs and lows, that made me so attached to him.
Along with a moving plot and great characters, this story was so beautifully written. Wagamese's writing, especially his descriptions of nature, come to life off the page. The writing is almost poetic in nature, and you can hear the babbling brooks and feel the harsh winds of Winnipeg.
A new all-time favorite and makes me even more eager to keep reading Wagameses work!
5 🌠 🌠 🌠 🌠 🌠 Sharing my thoughts about Richard Wagamese’s work deserves much more effort than I can give it. Books come along every now and then that make me think I should return to writing more thoughtful, wholly fleshed reviews. But I just want to read and not think so hard these days. In these pages we are told that the game of hockey brings out the very best in Saul Indian Horse and this also did the same for this reader. It is put back in a place of honor on my ‘this is why I read’ shelf.
This is a heartbreaking and tragic story told beautifully by Richard Wagamese. Although fiction, Wagamese pulls from his own experiences and others of the Ojibway Indian tribe, who were taken away from their parents to live in residential Indian schools. In this story, Saul Indian Horse is taken from his grandmother’s arms to live at St. Jerome’s Indian Residential School. He is eight years old. The sufferings that are inflicted on the children are difficult to read, especially as they are based in fact. According to https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/a-hist..., 150,000 children were forced to attend these schools. In order to assimilate the native children into white culture they were punished for speaking their native tongue. Many other abuses are documented.
In our story, despite the cruel and unloving atmosphere of St. Jerome’s, Saul finds a passion in ice hockey. Father Gaston Leboutilier gives Saul books about hockey, where he learns about the heroes of the sport. Saul is fired up about it before he ever puts skates on his feet. Wagamese writes beautiful passages about Saul’s affinity for the game, for the ice. My soul was lifted by Wagamese’s poetic prose as I hoped for Saul to rise from his difficult circumstances. Wagamese’s prose was equally as poetic when detailing scenes of nature, Indian legends, and the adolescent brotherhood of sports.
Wagamese’s novel makes me wonder why we keep making the same mistakes, now taking Mexican children from their parents at the Mexican, US border. Wagamese writes,
“When your innocence is stripped from you, when your people are denigrated, when the family you came from is denounced and your tribal ways and rituals are pronounced backward, primitive, savage, you come to see yourself as less than human. That is hell on earth, that sense of unworthiness. That’s what they inflicted on us.”
Perhaps we should learn to celebrate our differences, instead of trying to create cookie cutter children, cookie cutter culture, cookie cutter landscapes of Wal-Mart and Burger King. The tragedy that is borne by children who are in proximity to adults who think this way is reprehensible. This is the first time I have read Richard Wagamese, but it won’t be the last. He died last year at the age of 61. This book has been made into a movie, which I watched last night, right on the heels of reading the book. The book is better, but there’s a scene in the movie that I will remember for a long time, the fingers of eight year old Saul on the very wrinkled face of his grandmother. It’s being a grandmother that makes me feel this scene so intensely and feel the horror of what it must be like to be separated from a beloved child.
The first thing I have to do before writing this review is to scoop my heart back up into my chest and dry my tears. I've heard a lot about Richard Wagamese but this is my first experience with his writing, and yes, he is just as good as everyone says he is.
"But if I'd I learned anything while I was at the center, it's that you reclaim things the most when you give them away."
What Saul Indian Horse lost when he was taken away to St. Jerome's at 8 years old was himself and his way of life. The Residential Schools, run by Catholics, sanctioned by the government, meant to remove Indian children from their families and recondition them to the way of the white man, were little more than labor camps and factories for abuse, sexual and otherwise. Some children lost their lives, some by their own hands when it got too bad to bear anymore. But Saul was lucky in at least one way. He grew to love the sport of ice hockey, discovered a natural talent for it, and was able to escape from reality when he was on the ice. Eventually it helped him leave the school behind and find a family and a team where he could indulge himself in everything that the ice could offer. What he couldn't escape was the racism and the cruelty against his people from the white men he encountered, and finally his own self as repressed memories threatened to destroy his life.
Wagamese is a rare author who can write beautiful prose about ugly, evil things, and who truly soars when his characters transcend those things. Late to the party, but very glad to arrive at last, I'm off to find more of this man's books. He's pretty special. Thanks to Wyndy for making the introduction.
[4+] If I had known that hockey was central to this novel, I may not have picked it up. But I'm so glad I did. Wagamese writes with grace and truth and I was spellbound by Saul's rocky journey, And yes - by the hockey which was much more than a game to Saul.
Saul Indian Horse is but eight years old when he is literally yanked from the arms of his grandmother and carted off to a church-run residential school. Racism is rampant, abuse out of control. Punishment is dire for any child foolish enough to run away, many were punished, some disappeared, others died. As he tries to make his way, an unexpected introduction to ice hockey ends up being the saving grace for Saul.
The writing is clean and simple, it reads very quickly, and tells a tale both heartbreaking and uplifting. Listen to Saul tell his story as he works to find peace in his heart for the harsh realities that life has dealt him. You will root for him to find his way home. Home - where memories are held, things kept, the sum of us.
Let me start by saying that I think this book should be mandatory reading for everyone. We meet Saul Indian Horse as an adult as he attempts to put his story down on paper. Richard Wagamese is so effective at putting us right there with Saul- from an 8 year old living with his family, to his time at a residential school and the repercussions on his life. At the school, the Sister (nun) says, "At St Jerome's we work to remove the Indian from our children so that the blessings of the Lord may be evidenced upon them" I am appalled at the treatment of Indigenous people and to think those schools were around in Canada till 1996!! This book felt like an attempt by the author to make us understand them better as a people and culture. It really was a punch in the gut!!!
I'm not sure what took me so long to discover Richard Wagamese, but I am so glad I have now. Remarkable book written clearly and with heart !
This is the poem that the author shared in his dedication. It really resonated with me, especially once I had finished the book.
The Peace of Wild Things
I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
I begin this book with both eagerness and trepidation. The year is 1961. Saul Indian Horse, Indian boy, is 8 years old. I, little white girl, would have been 7. Inevitably, he and I would have crossed paths as we travelled in different circles over the same land and waters. His home. My home. He feared the residential school. I wanted to go there.
April 3, 2012:
It's true. I wanted to attend the Indian Residential School that my family drove past many, many times on the way to visit my great auntie in the old folks home in Kenora. What did I know, I was seven.
Five decades have passed since then and I'm not sure now how much of my memories are based in reality or are imagined. I have, since the Truth and Reconciliation hearings in Winnipeg a couple of years ago, tried to match the school of my memories with the photos that have been gathered. None of the photos match with those of my memory. Nevertheless, my memory of the school is clear. I can see the school in my mind's eye now.
It was a red brick building built on a rise of land, set back from the road, with a backdrop of thick lush-green brush and tall evergreens reaching into the sky. A swing set and teeter-totter beckoned from one side. Yet rarely, perhaps only once or twice, did I ever see children playing on those swings. I wanted to play on those swings. I wanted to play with the children that I imagined attended the school. I would ask my parents questions about this school each and every time we passed it. I learned that only Indian children were "allowed" to attend school there. Not fair. When I said that I wished I could go to school there, my mother said that no, I would not like it there, that the Indian children did not get to go home after school every day or for lunch, that they didn't even get to go home on weekends; that they lived there away from their families. At the time, I was the eldest of four children. I had two sisters and a brother and thought that I would not mind at all living away from them. And anyway, I defiantly said to my mother, if I wanted to go home, I would just go and if the Indian kids wanted to go home, they could just go too and nobody could stop us.
What did I know, I was seven. I wonder now how much my parents knew then about what went on in the residential schools. I wonder how much my grandparents knew.
I want to believe that they did not know. But, based on what I now know, I wonder how they could not. How I could not.
I have been paying attention.
I have always been interested in and sympathetic to the struggles of aboriginal peoples.
I'd read Heather Robertson's Reservations Are For Indians in my late teens and was saddened by the truth of it. I had wanted to attend and show my support for the "Indians" at Anicinabe Park in 1974. I was convinced not to go by my parents who wondered just what on earth I had to offer and suggested I owed it to my own then 2 year old child not to go and get shot. So I didn't go. I did go the day after everyone had cleared out though. I don't know why. Perhaps I thought that if I just went there answers would come to me from some other plane. I walked around. I sat. But all I saw was a spot of flattened grass and, on the shore, a big fish. Master Angler size. But dead. White and bloated.
I don't know exactly how or when I cottoned on to the extent of the damage done by residential schools. Certainly in my early twenties, it appeared to me that the "Indian problem" (and if you are born and raised in Kenora, it was the "Indian" problem) was largely an economic one. We stole their land and way of life, gave them a piece of rubble to live on and said, what's wrong with you? Pull up your socks and do something for yourself. I remember wanting to help. I remember spirited discussions with a couple of "militant" young aboriginal women (at parties where we all ended up drunk as skunks, and me about as wise) on the subject of self-government where they told me, not unkindly but in no uncertain terms, that the Indians did not want my bleeding-heart help. The likes of me had done enough already. I do not remember any talk of the effect of residential schools at that time. Although surely these two women would have had something to say. Or was I not listening?
Perhaps I learned like all Canadians have, or should have by now, through newspaper articles and newsreel bits about this atrocity or that meted out by this now old priest or that one. I can say that a lot has all been brought home to me in my own career as a lawyer. Sometimes I represent parents whose children have been seized by CFS. Sometimes I represent the very children who have been seized or, in proper terms, apprehended. Yes, apprehended. Like they are the criminals. They are so beautiful and they just want to be loved and you know their parents don't know how. And you just want to take those children home and love them yourself, but you know that is not the answer. And you hope that one of their grannies comes to rescue them because it seems it is always the grannies who feel and assume the responsibility and with whom the kids have the best chance.
Regardless, by the time of the Truth and Reconciliation hearings in Winnipeg, I thought that I knew all, or at least enough, of what I needed to know. I went not because I thought there was something new to learn, but because I wanted to show respect, to listen. If I was one white face among a few or many, I wanted the story tellers to know that someone was listening, that their stories were being heard. I thought I knew enough. And yet I wept, my tears flowing down my face unabated into my shirt collar. And I was not the only one.
Had I not been paying attention?
April 7, 2012
I finished reading this book on April 4th, 3 days ago, and have struggled to put my thoughts down here since then. I have, as you will have seen if you are still reading, allowed myself a lot of blather about myself and how I got to this point in time. In fact I wrote a lot more, about the respect my own father taught me for nature and for other people and the "Indian" way of life; about my little Indian friend with whom I played on his reserve; and that despite all of the racism that did exist back in the 60s, there was also kindness, humanity, and respect among the white and aboriginal people that I knew; and, what the hell, I blathered on about my entire family's love of hockey too. I deleted most of it because I know anyone reading this is not really interested and it seemed like all too much self aggrandizement. Yet somehow I think there is a point to my doing it. And that is because I think that most people, white folks anyway, will come to this work of fiction in much the same way as I did. Thinking we've heard and read enough; that we know the story now; that we were not individually, personally, responsible; that yes some bad things, some very bad things, happened and we really really wish they hadn't, but those things are in the past. The Prime Minister of Canada has apologized on behalf of us all. What more can be done? Individually? Together? Or, is it up to aboriginal people to heal themselves now?
So I was eager to read Indian Horse. I think that fiction has a far greater power to fully engage the reader than something like a newspaper article. The "news" might be accurate, educational, and shocking even, but once it has been read or viewed and perhaps clucked over a bit, it is over. That thing happened. How terrible. But it did not happen to me. It's over. Done. Time to move on. A story is different. A novel is not just a moment in time but a lifetime. The reader lives it. Lives and breathes it. No matter what the author intended, a story lived and breathed by the reader become his story, part of him.
And authors are often visionaries, our canaries in the coal mine, our scouts. They can see our world for what it is and where it is going and warn us and guide us.
There's a blurb, right on the front cover of this book, by Kathleen Winter: "Indian Horse is a force for healing in our beautiful, broken world." How could I not want to read such a book? If Kathleen Winter is right, how could any Canadian not want to read such a book?
And so I read.
Saul Indian Horse introduced himself to me as the son of John Indian Horse and Mary Mandamin, grandson of Solomon, member of the Fish Clan of the northern Ojibway, the Anishinabeg as they call themselves and whose people made their home along the Winnipeg River. His home. My home. I know Saul Indian Horse intimately already because he has seen, tasted, heard, smelled, touched, trod upon and breathed the very country that flows as life's blood through me. I care about him.
I suspect that I would have cared for Saul despite the coincidental connection to the land in which I was born and raised and that is due to another connection that we all have and which the author so adeptly captures. It is the tiny world of the child. The world is pretty small when you are a child, no matter how much ground you might cover. At least the safe world is, the world in which you belong, the world in which people care about you. You may well have an idea that there is a bigger world out there but it is defined by how your family sees it and for Saul's family the bigger world, the non-Indian world, is a place to be feared.
I am intrigued by Saul's name. How did this child end up with "Indian" in his own name. He tells us but, my first thought was that you might be able to change Mark Twain's niggers to slaves but you can't change a kid's name on him. Surely, Saul will never be "Saul Aboriginal Horse". But clearly, Saul has already been affected by the white man's presence. While I am romanced by Saul's talk of his people's history: the old ones, the legends, Aki (mother earth) and being at home in the places that the Zhaunagush (white man)feared, for some reason his name niggles at me, even after I hear the history of it. Can I really trust this story teller even while caring about him?
After all, Saul is, as the story begins, in a treatment centre for alcoholics. How often do treatment centres, run as they are by social workers and do-gooders, actually help anyone? Saul seems to have the same question. He is asked to tell his story because, according to his social workers, you can't understand where you're going if you don't understand where you've been. So he'll tell it but just so he can get out of there as fast as possible. Not a very convincing guy in which to place one's trust seems to me.
Saul's story begins with his childhood in northwestern Ontario where he lived a traditional way of life hunting and fishing with his parents, grandma Naomi and older brother Ben. At first I am a little skeptical because I do not remember anyone living that way in 1961. Yet when I recall my father's absolute forbiddance of the "get-rich-quick" plan hatched by my brother and I to harvest and sell wild rice to American and Manitoba tourists (at a profit far greater, we figured, than the 25 cents per dozen we pocketed selling them minnows)- He told us that the rice belonged to the Indians. He even showed us how it was marked with braided ties. And he told us he'd tan our hides if he ever caught us stealing it. My father did not tell me about dancing the manoomin though and I am momentarily enchanted by this little tidbit and that Grandma Naomi decides Saul and Ben are old enough to participate in this ritual, so they can learn to be men. My enchantment, though real, gives way to sadness though even as I begin trusting Saul, he describes how his parents, his mother in particular, was lost to him even before they abandoned him. The loss of his eldest sister, of his brother, of his whole family and finally his dear wise grandmother. How could anyone, let alone an eight year-old-boy, endure such tragedy? I realize it does not matter if it is 1961 or 1941. It is not my job to interject. It is Saul's job to tell his story and my job to shut up and listen.
I do. When Saul matter-of-factly educates me about the "hell on earth" at St. Jerome's Indian Residential School, where he was taken after his grandma died trying to save him from that very fate, I know that this is all true but the extent of this truth is overwhelming. It is even more heartbreaking than I could have imagined. While I wept at the Truth and Reconciliation hearings, I think I still had a bit of a reserve because it was adults who were telling their stories - survivors - who probably had themselves healed enough to have some distance - scar tissue protecting them. But here was an 8 year old boy, among hundreds of other boys and girls, children, being wounded. Daily. If not physically to his or her own person, then psychologically, emotionally, constantly, in the witnessing of torture and humiliation of classmates; in the night after night fear of being next, hearing the tell-tale rustling in the dark; seeing your classmates succumb, never being the same; having them disappear or kill themselves. With no escape.
It is unthinkable, unbearable and despite my resolve to just listen, I couldn't help but scream out to the author, "I can't help but notice you've not said one good thing about one good white person. All of your white people are evil. I know it was not like that. Your people have said there were good experiences in the residential schools. To be fair you have to give me that!"
And as if in answer to a prayer, Father Leboutilier arrives bearing gifts of worthwhile chores and hockey sticks and Jean Beliveau. I would have preferred Dave Keon but, hey, I accept. Oh sweet salvation. Once again I am romanced by young Saul as he learns the great Canadian game - socks on the linoleum, turds in the snow, wrist shots and crossovers and the "mystery of the ice". I am reminded of Paul Quarrington's gift in King Leary of the hockey playing monks. Saul will be okay. He is no longer the book reading, English speaking Zhaunagush to his classmates, he is Saul Indian Horse, hockey playing brother. Hockey will be Saul's escape from St. Jeromes.
And indeed it appears that it will be. Saul's talents do allow him to escape into the pure joy of playing and, as he gets older and better, away from the school. He moves in with the Kellys, a warm and supportive family in Manitouwadge, so he can play in tournaments.
But it all goes terribly wrong, because as Saul gets better and better and progresses through the ranks of hockey, so too does he get deeper and deeper into that outside racist world. His own teammates don't call him by name and the opponents and fans delight in bastardizing it -Indian Whores, Horse Piss, Stolen Pony - and the media labels him the "Rampaging Redskin". Saul resorts to giving them what they want and becomes the rampaging redskin and, in so doing, loses all the joy he had in the game.
There was a point in this novel where I was so devastated that I cursed the author, "Damn it Wagamese, you've betrayed me." and yet, by the novel's conclusion I was grateful and even allowed myself to be hopeful.
I was thoroughly engaged from start to finish, ran the gamut of emotions while reading and Saul Indian Horse has occupied my thoughts for ten full days now, as I struggled to write this monstrosity of a review. A great book.
For me, I will take some lessons from the Kelly family, whom Saul visits when he leaves the treatment centre and, in the meantime, I'll just shut up and listen.
Richard Wagamese wrote beautifully! Indian Horse is a heart-breaking and heart-warming story about growing up, racism, community residential schools, survival and hockey. The author creates a memorable character in Saul Indian Horse. As a child Saul finds himself without his family and in the depths of a residential school. As the reader we are there for every heart-breaking moment as the child tries to survive and understand and finds solace in playing hockey. A story of unspeakable horrors in the 50's & 60's and it's lingering effects on our country's native people. This novel has opened my eyes to the horrible atrocities committed behind closed doors. It is a great injustice to the youth of Canada that our education system chose to glaze over these horrific events in years gone by and it is only after reading this book that I was made aware of the Indian Residential schools where immoral priests and nuns worked to break the students spirit and sever their ties with their aboriginal life. Many tears but also a must read!
“‘They scooped out our insides, Saul. We’re not responsible for that. We’re not responsible for what happened to us. None of us are.’ Fred said. ‘But our healing-that’s up to us. That’s what saved me. Knowing it was my game.’”
Indian Horse is the first book I had to read for my summer English course. It’s a book that I think will lead to some deep discussions with my class.
This book was hard to read at times because of the subject matter. What residential schools did were horrific and disgusting. However, it’s something that we shouldn’t ignore, so for that reason, I think this book is a really important one to read. It had some really graphic depictions and details about what indigenous children experienced at those schools. I actually didn’t know a lot about residential schools before reading this book, so Saul’s experiences were really eye opening to me.
I found I really enjoyed Richard Wagamese’s writing style. There were numerous passages that I took pictures of because of how beautifully written they were. He had a great blend of details and action, which made the pacing of this story work really well.
I loved how this book discussed treatment for alcoholism. Alcoholism treatment is important to portray in books, but even more so than that, it is important to see that people can overcome their alcoholism and find meaning in life again.
There was one major element that made it so that I wasn’t sucked into every part of this book and that was the hockey. Hockey is an important symbol in Saul’s life, so it was important to include hockey scenes in this book, but I found that a lot of the passages about hockey went a little overboard. I’m not a huge sports fan, especially not a hockey fan, so the detailed descriptions of what went on during the practices and games bored me. I found myself skimming some of the hockey sections so that I could move on to the more interesting parts of the book.
I overall thought this was a worthwhile read with some very important messages. It obviously wasn’t a perfect book for me since I’m not a huge sports fan, but I think everyone can take something away from this book despite its lengthy sports scenes.
At only 221 pages, the late Richard Wagamese's novel 'Indian Horse' packs a big emotional wallop. As a young boy Saul Indian Horse is placed in a residential boarding 'school ' as part of the Canadian governments plan to fully assimilate indigenous children into Canadian society. Torn from their families, these kids were forbidden to speak their ancestral language, deprived of all their people's cultural influence and forcibly enfranchised. Two-thirds of all schools, including Saul's, were run by the Catholic Church, exposing them to physical and sexual abuse. The mortality and suicide rate was inordinately high. Saul sees and experiences first hand many horrors and withdraws into himself, into books and eventually discovers the game of hockey. And he is very,very good at it. Hockey, for Saul, is more than an escape, it is an uplifting, soulful, transcendent experience. And in the game, he thinks he has found a home. Wagamese's style is easy to read and short chapters propel the story along quickly. It is Saul's journey. A journey of self- healing and self -acceptance that takes him down a dark path that many like him have been, and still are, treading.. Read, read. Keep your kleenex box handy.
I love this quote from grandmother: "We need mystery," she said. "Creator in her wisdom knew this. Mystery fills us with awe and wonder. They are the foundations of humility, and humility, grandson, is the foundation of all learning. So we do not need to seek to unravel this. We honour it by letting it be that way forever." Pg. 65.
And this paragraph seems to sum up the residential school situation: "When your innocence is stripped from you, when your people are denigrated, when the family you came from is denounced and your tribal ways and rituals are pronounced backward, primitive, savage, you come to see yourself as less than human. That is hell on earth, that sense of unworthiness. That's what they inflicted on us." Pg. 81.
We have an extraordinarily gifted Author at work here and my appreciation to friend Jennifer for suggesting this book. The story takes place in Canada, 1960, and focuses on young Native Indians whom the authorities forcefully remove from their parents and place in a boarding school. (Sound familiar?) The inhumane treatment and racism follows a young man throughout his life. One thing, Ice Hockey plays a large role in this story and if you are not a fan of the sport, I guarantee that when you finish, you'll never view Hockey the same. A great read.
In North Carolina, basketball, football and baseball rule. We have ice hockey here, but it’s not our “thing” so I wasn’t very familiar with the game. Richard Wagamese corrected that with this powerful novel that focuses on all things hockey through the heart and skates of young Saul Indian Horse. Count me as a new fan of the game.
“There wasn’t a nuance that I didn’t try to incorporate into what felt like flying, being borne across the sky on great wings. I loved that. I was a small boy with outsized skates, and in the world that hockey had created I found a new home.”
“Home” is an elusive word for Saul as an Ojibway child forced at age eight into Canada’s horrific residential schools system, another subject I knew next to nothing about. Hockey becomes both an emotional escape for Saul and a way out of St. Jerome’s, and later “the Rez.” But relentless prejudice and persecution and deep scars from his years at the school haunt Saul throughout his teens and early adult life. He struggles to find a path through his rage and pain. A stellar piece of writing that I loved as much as Medicine Walk. You know you’re reading someone special when that author references Wendell Berry’s “The Peace Of Wild Things” in his epigraph and when you realize you highlighted almost half the book. Another gifted writer who left us far too soon.
“I understood then how hard years are to get a hold of, how elusive the life in them can be to capture and retell. I understood then too that time does not heal all wounds. I wanted to say it all in one brilliantly executed sentence, encompass all of it in a succinct, effortless rush. But I couldn’t. I was at a loss where to begin.”
I wanted to love this more than I did. I was totally absorbed by the story of an Ojibway family trying to keep their children safe from the Canadian government (who was removing first Nations children from their families!) and the journey of Saul Indian Horse into his new (and undesired) life. So I was surprised when half the novel was suddenly a sportsing hockey novel, almost like the author got bored. The slow reveal of sexual abuse felt added in for the wrong reasons and didn't seem to fit. I still want to read more by this author; perhaps someone can recommend another title more?
I first talked about this book when I included it in a book speed dating project earlier this year and it was definitely compelling enough to finish. Maybe come for the child story, and stay for the hockey, if that's your jam.
I was sent a review copy in print by Milkweed for its USA debut, which was earlier in 2018. The book originally came out in Canada in 2012.
Gut-wrenching and haunting Indian Horse depicts the horrific realities of residential schools, as well as racism and discrimination in 1960s Ontario. This is the third novel that I’ve read by Richard Wagamese and, while Medicine Walk and Ragged Company were no walks in the parks, Indian Horse’s unsparing bleakness and distressing content make those two seem like light reading material. In spite of how upsetting and chilling this story was, Wagamese never sensationalises his characters’ suffering nor does he include graphic and or painful scenes as a cheap way to ‘shock’ his readers. He writes with such empathy and compassion that I found myself unable to tear myself away from Saul’s story.
Indian Horse opens with Saul Indian Horse, who is Ojibwe, being in a treatment centre for his alcoholism. He then begins recounting his childhood, of the early years he spent with his family ‘on the lam’ back in the early 1960s in the wilderness of Northern Ontario after his siblings were taken, kidnapped really, by the so-called ‘authorities’. His parents are heartbroken and survival is difficult, but, compared to what is to come this part of his life seems like a vacation almost. Eventually, Saul is also stolen and taken to a residential school. Wagamese is unflinching in his depiction of the horrors that occur in residential schools such as the one ‘attended’ by Sault. Words like horrifying or brutal do not succeed in conveying the monstrous actions and behaviours of the people in charge of these schools (mostly nuns and priests). The corporal and psychological violence they inflict on their ‘charges’ are abhorrent, stomach-churning, horrific. Their anti-indigenous teachings see them ‘punishing’ (read: abusing) children for speaking in their native tongue, or for expressing non-Christian beliefs or for merely acknowledging their reality (that of having been forcibly taken from their families and communities).
Saul finds solace in hockey. When Father Leboutilier notices how skilled Saul is on the ice he encourages him to keep on playing, tutoring him along the way. Saul temporarily plays with a ‘midget hockey team’ but resentful white parents and their children are unwilling to see him ‘take’ the spotlight and soon enough he’s out of the team. Eventually, Saul leaves the residential school and goes to live with the Kellys, an Ojibway foster family who wants him to join their community’s junior hockey team. Over the following years, Saul and the rest of his teammates are subjected to many forms of discrimination, from the racist slurs other teams and their fans throw their way to the everyday discriminations and ‘roughing’ up they are subjected to. Saul initially refuses to retaliate when opposing players pull dirty tricks which actually earns him the contempt of his own teammates, who view his decision not to respond to violence with violence as passive, cowardly even. Later on, Saul is scouted by the Toronto Marlboros where he’s yet again a victim of discrimination. As time passes Saul decides to abandon hockey and develops a taste for drinking.
Whereas Medicine Walk and Ragged Company were very dialogue-heavy and in many ways read like long conversations (between the characters, between humans and the natural world, between past and present), Indian Horse is a more quiet work that is far more introspective in nature. Saul’s recollection of his childhood and teenage years is permeated by a sense of sorrow and loss. From the traumatic experience of being separated from his family to the horrifying realities of residential school and the later abuse he was subjected to once he began playing hockey professionally….this is not a fun or nostalgic foray into the good olden days. Wagamese captures in painful clarity how much Saul struggled with the abuse, violence, and racism he experienced growing up. He conveys these experiences through his younger eyes, so that we too, feel as confused, hurt, and lost as he did. The loneliness he feels is truly heart-breaking and there were times that I struggled to keep on reading. But, as I said earlier on, Wagamese never makes a spectacle of his characters’ suffering. He’s matter-of-fact when it comes to recounting Saul’s difficult life, making his experiences seem all the more real.
As with Wagamese's other novels, the narrative incorporates various Ojibway teachings, and here we see just how powerful they are in that they tether Saul to the culture he was so violently ripped away from. Much about the tone of the novel brought to mind one of my all-time-favourite novels, Last Night I Sang to the Monster by Benjamin Alire Sáenz. While they do portray very different realities, prose and tone-wise the two share a similar quality. Self-forgiveness is a crucial part of both of these novels, and both authors demonstrate extreme empathy in the way they handle trauma, loss, and addiction. If you are a fan of Wagamese, or Sáenz, and you are prepared to have your heart broken (and possibly stitched back together), you should seriously consider reading Indian Horse.
"I read once that there are holes in the universe that swallow all light, all bodies. St. Jerome's took all the light from my world. Everything I knew vanished behind me with an audible swish, like the sound a moose makes disappearing into spruce."
"St. Germ's scraped away at us, leaving holes in our beings. I could never understand how the god they proclaimed was watching over us could turn his head away and ignore such cruelty and suffering."
There was so much to like about this book, and so much to despise about how it came to be written; so much to be angry about, to feel shame on behalf of a culture and its institutions and beliefs.
A story that personalizes the abuse of indigenous children in Canada (but also occurred here in the states), it begins with Saul Indian Horse as a young child, left essentially orphaned when his parents disappear and his grandmother dies. Placed in a boarding school he escapes emotionally into the world of hockey which provides him a ticket out of St. Jerome's, but not out of the relentless undeserved abuse heaped on Natives. Despite talent and integrity, Saul lives in a world that treats him as "less than", a world that continues to scrape away at him, leaving new holes in his being. Those holes lead to a restlessness that drives him into self-destructiveness.
"I couldn't run the risk of someone knowing me, because I couldn't take the risk of knowing myself."
Only when he faces all the inner demons does Saul begin to find a place to belong, and accept that he can belong. It was a heartbreaking journey, one he shares with too many others. A difficult story because of how real and prevalent this kind of mistreatment has been and continues to be.
Ça faisait longtemps que je ne m’étais pas fait ramasser par un livre ainsi. J’en ai eu des frissons et des émotions. J’ai dévoré ma lecture tout autant que j’avais mal. Je suis complètement anéantie.
Vous avez lu Kukum et Le vent en parle encore de Michel Jean? Lisez Cheval indien! Vous n’avez pas lu ces livres-là? Lisez Cheval indien!
Warning. C’est un livre difficile, très, difficile. Mais savez-vous quoi? Les blancs ont rendu la vie difficile, très difficile, aux Premières nations et dans le cas présent, aux Anishnabeg. C’est crissement difficile à lire parce que ça été crissement difficile à vivre.
On suit Saul. Un jeune garçon hyper attachant qui verra sa vie bousculer a plusieurs reprises. Sa famille est déjà écorchée par les pensionnats et lui-même ne sera pas épargné. Le hockey prendra une grande place dans sa vie et sera salvateur, mais le racisme et la méchanceté le feront basculer dans la rage et la haine.
L’histoire est bouleversante. Elle relate des faits horribles, mais aussi des amitiés sincères et de grandes joies. Je ne suis pas fervente de hockey, mais j’aurais suivi Saul y jouer jusqu’au bout du monde.
L’écriture est une grande force de ce roman. C’est efficace tout en étant fluide et rapide. Les événements difficiles sont expliqués rapidement avec une sorte de distance, mais ils frappent fort. C’est tellement immersif, tellement poignant. Il est impossible d’en sortir indemne.
Combien de fois j’ai eu des larmes et des frissons? Au moins 10! J’ai sorti mes posts-it parce qu’il y avait de ses phrases assassines, criantes de vérités ou bouleversantes. Je vais devoir le relire pour tout noter ce que je n’ai pas eu la force de faire pendant la lecture puisque je ne pouvais m’arrêter.
Burt Award for First Nations, Métis and Inuit Literature 2013. Saul Indian Horse has a broken spirit. As part of his therapy for alcoholism, Saul recounts his personal story. It is filled with trauma, racism, and abuse. He was orphaned at a young age and placed at St.Jerome’s Indian Residential School—a horrible place. The arrival of Father Leboutilier introduced Saul to the game of hockey. It provides solace to his soul. But as Saul’s opportunities increase due to his talent, so does the racial hostility.
“I wanted to rise to new heights, be one of the glittering few. But they wouldn’t let me be just a hockey player. I always had to be an Indian.”
Wagamese incorporates Ojibway words throughout the novel and weaves in Ojibway legends. Saul’s spirit is eventually healed, but his story will break your heart along the way. Recommend.
The book is a fast 221 pages, but I feel as if I’ve been through a life marathon. Young Saul Indian Horse starts life with a loving family: “My people are from the Fish Clan of the northern Ojibway . . .” living in northern Ontario, Canada. We follow him from his family’s attempt to escape having their children stolen by the government, to his life at the mercy of the monstrous Catholic Church folk in a horrific Indian school, to a brief but elegiac escape into playing ice hockey, to . . . Well, read the book.
The writing is stark, poetic, and moving. The sense of the land and weather is visceral. The shifts from white people’s reality to Indian visionary reality is seamless. And the book and story are so good, it makes me forgive the report-writing at the end that felt like analysis.
There is much to resonate with for anybody who has survived being broken. I’m glad I read this book.