“Books had been my safe place all the time I’d been in the school and they still represented security, and whatever corner I huddled in to read was a safe one to me”
After finishing The Medicine Walk by Richard Wagamese, I was anxious to read more of his writing. He has a fluid, quiet way of telling a story which makes a reader ponder his words long after closing the book. He shares the tragic tale of Saul Indian Horse who had lost his family and lost himself after years of abuse in a residential school.
Saul’s family tried to protect him, taking him in to the wilds of Northern Ontario to escape being sent to residential school like his sister. His grandmother told stories and tried to instil the way of life of their ancestors had followed. His parents taught him to speak and read in English and struggled with the divide between their indigenous culture and the religion and way of life that they had learned in residential schools.
Saul lost his way of life, lost his family and ended up at St. Jerome’s. In residential school, he grew to love the game of hockey, skating past his problems and focusing on the game in a way that helped him avoid dealing with his losses and current situation. His hockey skills led to a way out, but no matter where he was, he could not escape his past. He could not escape it through hockey, through reading, through hard work or even through alcohol.
“I can’t understand where I’m going if I don’t understand where I’ve been”
He experienced help and kindness along his journey, with the family who rescued him from residential school, the Moose hockey team and a kind and widowed farmer who offered him a place to stay and work. The farmer’s name was Erv and he was very reminiscent of the kind old man, Eldon (from The Medicine Walk) with his security, friendship, silence and understanding. Saul had support but he, alone, had to come to terms with his own past.
Indian Horse is another story that needs to be shared and is on the CBCs 100 Novels that Make You Proud to Be a Canadian list. It needs to be shared with all Canadians and definitely within the school system. Everyone needs to understand the atrocities of residential schools and the long-lasting effects on individuals, on families and on generations of indigenous people. It is a disturbing story but one that is important to know to ensure that it never happens again and to provide understanding and support to those who have suffered and to the subsequent generations that have been impacted.
I have great respect for the author, Richard Wagamese who has drawn from his own experience with family who had been incarcerated in residential schools. He has lived with abuse and has drawn on his own history with alcohol when writing this poignant story. Again, I will share that the author “may never have become a writer, were it not for the kindness of a group of librarians in St. Catharines, Ontario, where he stumbled into the public library at the age of 16, seeking shelter and refuge from a life on the streets” (CBC Radio interview). Wagamese has told a difficult story drawing on his own experiences to share as story which will develop understanding of the impact of residential schools. Richard Wagamese is an author who I admire and hope to meet!