In 1990, Richard Wagamese won the National Newspaper Award for Column Writing, the first Native Canadian to earn this award. Wagamese’s success continued to skyrocket after he published his novel Indian Horse in 2012. His novel captures the Indigenous identity and experience, owing to his personal history.
In Indian Horse, Wagamese tackles the issue of Indigenous abuse while challenging the stereotypes associated with Native Canadians in modern society. Meanwhile, Wagamese intricately interlaces other themes into his story that belong to Indigenous culture.
The story occurs in Canada in the 1960s and follows Saul Indian Horse, a young Ojibway boy. Saul’s voice emphasizes the importance of storytelling as “good medicine,” or an act of healing.
Saul is taken from his land and sent to a residential school in northern Ontario, where he ends up developing a passion and talent for hockey. Saul sees rhythm in the game. We learn that he has inherited vision powers from his grandfather, Solomon. Hockey proceeds to take Saul on a journey he never imagined. He visits Toronto and becomes part of a national organization, a feat never once accomplished by a Native Canadian.
Saul’s journey reveals the ugly truth about Native Canadian living conditions. The harassment, violence, racial prejudice, and inequality in every phase of life becomes visible as Saul travels from one place to another. People ignore him and abuse him. Yet, he maintains his faith and courage. His will to live takes him on a separate journey of self-discovery.
Saul’s character development stood out the most to me. He progresses exponentially from his state of naivety and fear. Saul realizes the importance of telling stories and passing them down to the later generations, just like his grandmother used to do.
Indian Horse presents a complex meditation on Native Canadian culture. Through the lens of Saul, readers witness the struggles Natives must endure in contemporary society. Saul’s character is strikingly realistic. He fades in and out of success, addiction, and self-fulfillment. Nonetheless, he maintains the values of friends, family, and cultural tradition. His story, although bleak, teaches us the importance of Indigenous culture, one that should not be ignored.