Indian Horse

Richard Wagamese
Painting - In the Northland by Tom Thomson (1915)
In the Northland · Tom Thomson ( 1915)
Oil on canvas · 101 x 114 cm ·Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

“I discovered that being someone you are not is often easier than living with the person you are.”

A powerful and difficult tale of withdrawal, self-discovery, and overcoming trauma, this is the life story of Saul Indian Horse, of the northern Ojibway. It is a book about hockey, but it’s not about hockey: As a young orphan in 1960s Canada, he faces alienation from his own culture while growing up in a Fist Nation residential school – state-sponsored institutions administered by Christian churches to strip Indigenous children from their heritage – “to kill the Indian in the child”. Learning about hockey from a pastor he soon becomes close with, he finds solace in this strangely fascinating sport, quickly recognizing his own talent in this game of speed and power. First wide-eyed steps turn into an eagerness to prove himself, even though White Men consider it “their game”. Soon thereafter, Saul starts to battle with feelings of estrangement and anger – emotions which are only in part caused by a disillusionment with hockey.

“… you reclaim things the most when you give them away.”

Remarkably nuanced in emotion and self-reflection, Saul’s remembrances are also an adventure – for himself – to a time long past, trying to re-forge missing links to both his ancestral culture and innocence that he was robbed of at a young age. Heartbreaking but eventually uplifting in an unexpected way, this important work gracefully binds sober reflection and analysis of a tragic era with an absorbing, beautiful narrative.

“We need mystery. Creator in her wisdom knew this. Mystery fills us with awe and wonder. They are the foundations of humility, and humility is the foundation of all learning.”

Small sketch - Book Review - Indian Horse
© 2024 Camillo Visini