These school’s main job was to take Indigenous children from their homes and “erase the Indian from the child”. Priests and nuns ran the school, and were trying to erase the children’s’ religion and replace it with their Catholic religion. The children forced in these schools faced overwhelming amount of abuse, and this book follows the story of Saul Indian Horse, a child who was put into one of these schools.
Before Saul was taken to a Residential School, he lived with his mother, father, uncle, and grandmother. His younger sister and brother were both taken to the schools. Saul’s parents were alcoholics, because they themselves were in residential schools as children. He was basically raised by his grandmother, until a series of events happen and Saul got taken to a school.
Once inside the school, we get to follow first hand what Saul, and the other children he meets, experience. We see young children being abused in more ways than thought imaginable, by the priests and nuns who ran the school. Months go by for Saul, until a young priest shows up and shows him and the older boys the game of hockey. Hockey becomes Saul’s new escape from the horrors of the school he’s in, and the story continues to follow Saul long after he managed to leave the school; but the story doesn’t end there. Out in the real world again, playing the game he loves, we (the readers) continue to follow Saul on his journey through life.
The main purpose for Wagamese to write a book like this is to bring to light what exactly happened in residential schools and how much of an impact it made on everyone that was affected. His own parents were survivors of residential schools. Overall I think that Wagamese did an excellent job in portraying what it was like for children in those types of schools. I found that his writing was done exceptionally well, and the different length of chapters throughout the novel made the story quite captivating.
Although this is a story that I think everyone should read- considering the fact that this is a major part of Canadian history and gives readers a better understanding of the types of trauma these kids went through- I found some parts quite hard to read. More often than once I had to put the book down and do something else for a while before I could continue. It wasn’t because the writing was terrible, in fact, it was quite the opposite. The way that this story portrays the types of abuse that Saul and the other kids go through is written so raw, that during the nastier and dark parts it brought tears to my eyes! However, even though this book does contain darker subjects, I still think that this is an important book that should definitely be talked about and discussed more.
Overall, the novel Indian Horse is a book that everyone should get the chance to read. This novel tells a story about part of our history; part of Canada’s past. Wagamese was able to not only tell the story, but make the readers feel as though we have stepped into the plot as well. The way Wagamese conveys the amount of emotions (or lack thereof) in a single chapter shows how great of a writer he was. If I were you, and you haven’t read this book yet, I would tell you to go to your nearest library and take one out. It’s important for everyone to be educated on what really happened to the people affected by residential schools, because the worst thing we could do to those kids is let ourselves forget about how much they hurt; how many of them are still hurting. If we let ourselves forget, are we really no better than those that first hurt them?
If you’re interested in further reading on this topic, or learning about Winnipeg Public Library’s Indigenous services and collections, check out our Indigenous Info Guide.