BY JASMINE KAPOOR
In 2012, Canadian author Richard Wagamese wrote Indian Horse, a book about Saul Indian Horse, an Indigenous boy who endured the residential school system of Canada but was able to find solace in hockey. Indian Horse is a story of culture, joy, pain, and ultimately – healing. It is far more than a story about hockey, as it also explores an element to our country that was hidden for too long, and that we as a country are finally facing; Residential schools.
Residential schools started in the late 1800s by the church and were supported by the Canadian government. What was their goal? To assimilate Indigenous peoples to “Canadian” culture. Those involved with these institutions took Indigenous children from their families to the “schools” which were in fact very different compared to what schools are intended to be. These children were treated like animals, getting their hair cut, being bathed with delousing powder that was very harmful to the children, and they were not allowed to speak their own languages. This was only the beginning of their suffering. The children were abused relentlessly by the priests and nuns in charge of the schools through forced labour, enduring beatings for small mistakes (or no reason at all), and many children were also sexually abused by those in positions of power.
While Indian Horse is entirely fictional, the story rings true to many Indigenous peoples who either endured the schools themselves, or those who live with the repercussions of the system. On April 30th, 2018, Milton District High School went to our local movie theatre to watch the film adaptation of the novel that deeply impacted the lives of many. We were able to take advantage of this opportunity thanks to the initiative of some commendable MD staff and students, as well as a representative from the Halton District School Board. The school board representative was part of the 60s scoop and grew up in an adoptive family because he was taken from his family as a child. The film was especially impactful for him, and that was the first time he watched the movie. His strength and bravery in joining MD for that personal experience was a reminder to all of us about the realities of Canada’s relationship with Indigenous peoples, and the changes we need to make to try and heal the past as much as possible and work toward a better future. It was also an opportunity for us to be grateful to be part of a school system that genuinely cares about our well being, instead of the system that an entire group of people had to endure, which was rooted in racism.
Photo by Andrea Gleeson
Personally, I found the book and film to be life-changing. I adore Richard Wagamese’s writing and Indian Horse exceeded my expectations. It doesn’t take long to read at all, and it’s impossible to put down. You will immediately grow attached to Saul, and reading the novel and watching the film will make you feel as if you are part of his life. As Canadians, it is our duty to be informed of the history of our country, even if it is unpleasant. Richard Wagamese used his gift of writing to help us all on the path of Truth and Reconciliation by creating such impactful stories about Indigenous peoples. It is also a guide that brings us all closer to the truth and is the first step to other resources that will help us gain a deeper understanding of the struggles Indigenous peoples face. You will love characters such as Saul and the Kellys, and share their joy but also ache when they are in pain. Wagamese also writes of beautiful settings that will transport you there in the pages, and the movie brings these places to life breathtakingly. The residential school in which Saul resides for a number of years is also in the film, and is even more frightening than it is in the book. And of course, Saul’s passion for hockey is relatable and authentic for those who also love the sport, and is engaging for those who do not know as much about it. Even if you are not Canadian, Indian Horse is a must-read and must-watch as it also involves many themes that are relevant to all, such as family, love, identity, and belonging.
In spite of the joy that comes from quality representation coming from Indigenous voices, one cannot help but mourn. There are the lives lost and the pain that is still present today among many Indigenous peoples, and we all suffer another loss that still hurts – the death of Richard Wagamese. On March 10th, 2017, 61-year-old Wagamese died of natural causes and left behind a life-partner and children. On that day, the entire world lost a voice that we will continue to cherish for the rest of time as we still mourn his loss.
It is crucial for all of us to take action and make a difference however much we can to show gratitude for people like Richard Wagamese who showed immense strength and bravery by helping all of us realize just how much still needs to be done. The federal government currently has the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, which has the purpose of mending the relationship Canada has with Indigenous peoples as much as possible so we can one day live in a better Canada for all. In this commission, there is a document with 94 Calls to Action. I strongly recommend that everyone reads this document, chose one, and act on it. As a school, MD is already making progress on these Calls to Action with the grade 11 Honouring Aboriginal Voices class, the mandatory English class rooted in Indigenous history and narratives.
In conclusion, I urge you to read and watch Indian Horse and consume as much Indigenous media from Indigenous sources as possible. Not only is it beneficial on a national and global scale, it will also enhance your life as an individual.