Monday, 12 August 2013

Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese

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. Drawing on his great-grandfather’s mystical gift of vision, Saul Indian Horse comes to recognize the influence of everyday magic on his own life. In this wise and moving novel, Richard Wagamese shares that gift of magic with readers as well.
About the Author

Richard Wagamese is a 51 year-old Ojibway from the Wabasseemoong First Nation in northwestern Ontario. Following a distinguished journalism career in which he became the first Native Canadian to win a National Newspaper Award for Column Writing, he moved into the realm of fiction writing.
  The result was the award-winning bestseller Keeper’n Me in 1994, published by Doubleday Canada Ltd. This was followed by an anthology of his newspaper columns, The Terrible Summer in 1996 from Warwick Press and his second novel, A Quality of Light, in 1997 from Doubleday. A memoir entitled For Joshua: an Ojibway Father Teaches His Son arrived in October 2002. His third novel, Dream Wheels, was published by Doubleday in 2006 to be followed by a fourth, Ragged Company, in 2007.

  Richard is listed in Canada's Who's Who. He has been a lecturer in Creative Writing with the University of Regina's Saskatchewan Indian Federated College, a writer for the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, a faculty advisor on Journalism for Grant MacEwen Community College and the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) and a scriptwriter for the CBC-Alliance production North of 60. Recognized for his free flowing style, Richard has been a book, film and music reviewer, general reporter and feature writer for numerous newspapers and journals across Canada. He has also worked extensively in both radio and television news and documentary.
Reviews                                                                                  Author Website


  1. All Fireside Readers attending agreed that Indian Horse is a fine, fine book. In particular, we responded to the simplicity and cadence of the writing. Indian Horse flowed as if it were a told, rather than written story. The language was deceptive - it was easy to read, however, it was not easy to take, and we all had strong emotional responses to Saul’s story.
    The story felt real. We felt betrayed like Saul had been, as the extent of Father Leboutiler’s perfidy was revealed. And we wept. Rage was there too, at the church, at our government and at our society that so carelessly allowed all that abuse to happen.
    Yet Saul was fortunate; he had intelligence, talent and the heritage that his grandmother had given him. Along the way he met people who were kind and who cared for him. If we felt this much for Saul, what would we feel for the others who were less fortunate – the children sent to the iron sister, the children so despondent that they took their own lives, sometimes in horrific ways; the children who experienced no kindness at all?
    Responses to the passages about hockey were mixed, some non-fans thought there were too many, while others felt the author had captured the spirit of hockey – we knew what it felt like to fly across the ice, to twirl, pass and shoot. The exhilaration was palpable and infectious. For Saul, hockey was a refuge, a spiritual home - the veil descended and he saw the game in all its complexity. He skated in a form of trance.

  2. With our new knowledge of, and shame at, what our government had done to those children, we were drawn to speak of our own experiences with First Nations people. Richard Wagamese had shown us life through Saul’s eyes, now we needed to examine that relationship for ourselves. Two of our members, as young teachers recruited from Great Britain, taught in a residential school in Fort Chippewan in the 1960s. The children were delightful and gifted. They loved their students and were hesitant to leave when a better position came along. Now, they ask themselves, “Were we naïve?” Our members who had grown up in all white communities say that to this day the sense of otherness is pervasive when they meet a First Nations person. Are they prejudiced? Those who lived in mixed race communities were oblivious to differences as young children, but in high school, whites and First Nations separated into two groups. Was this natural? Was it another example of prairie prejudice? Lastly, we learned that our own community had housed a residential school run by Methodists:
    The Red Deer Industrial School was only one of dozens of aboriginal residential schools in Alberta, but it has the distinction of having had one of the highest student mortality rates in the country. In her 1993 master’s thesis for the University of Calgary, Uta Fox found that of the 319 students known to have attended the school from 1893 until the records disappear in 1916, at least 45 died there, or soon after leaving.
    Fast Forward Weekly
    March 2nd, 2012

    Is our world any better than Saul’s in the sixties? Not much. The residential schools are gone, prejudice remains. The scars wrought by the assault on natives by the government in the forcible removal of children from their families and communities, the physical and sexual assaults, have marked First Nations communities for generations. Through Saul’s story Richard Wagamese opened our eyes and our hearts to those sad facts.

  3. With him, readers embark on a journey back through the life he’s led as a northern Ojibway, with all its joys and sorrows.
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