Written by Richard Wagamese
Published February 2012 by Douglas & McIntyre
In the opening chapter of Indian Horse the narrator, Saul Indian Horse, provides the context for the story we are about to read. He is living in an alcohol treatment facility where he has been asked to share his story as part of his healing journey. Uncomfortable sharing it aloud, Saul has been given permission to write it down.
Saul’s family lived on the land and after the death of his brother from TB contracted at a residential school, Saul is left in the care of his grandmother. When she dies of exposure, Saul is taken to St. Jerome’s Indian Residential School. There he experiences abuse, isolation, and devastating loneliness. As Saul describes, “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.”
A young priest, Father Leboutilier arrives at St. Jerome’s and introduces the boys to hockey. During his first winter at the school he builds a rink and forms a team for the older boys. Too young to play, Saul volunteers to maintain the ice. He uses this opportunity to teach himself the game of hockey. When he is asked to step in for a player injured during practice, it becomes clear to everyone that Saul is a gifted player and a place is made for him on the team.
Hockey offers Saul a refuge from life at St. Jerome’s. In his words, “Some nights I felt crippled by the ache of loss. But I knew that loneliness would be dispelled by the sheen of the rink in the sunlight, the feel of cold air on my face, the sound of a wooden stick shuffling frozen rubber.” Saul’s gift for the game eventually result in an invitation to leave St. Jerome’s to live with a First Nation family, attend the local high school, and play hockey. Although he is able to leave St. Jerome’s behind, he is not able to shake off the loneliness of not having seen his parent since they left him with his grandmother.
An opportunity to try out for the Toronto Marlboros takes Saul to a new level of hockey where he finds himself navigating a new level of racism as well. When he finally reaches his breaking point, he boards a bus and returns home. At seventeen, he finds work on a forestry crew and steels himself against the open racism of the men. Saul develops an anger that overtakes even his love of hockey and begins to drift, working odd jobs and drinking.
A life of wandering and drinking takes its toll and eventually Saul is hospitalized and admitted to the New Dawn Centre. A return to the site of St. Jerome’s helps him find the inner strength to continue his journey toward recovery.
Introducing the Author:
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Developing Background Knowledge:
Educators who would like to know more about residential schools in Canada can start with these sources.
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