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Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese: Reflection of Canada as a Dystopian Society

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One would imagine being the odd one out and finding success against all odds is satisfying. This, however, would be an incorrect statement. Imagine being a normal human with a noticeable difference, in a world where that person would be judged heavily by society. In the novel Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese, the main character, Saul Indian Horse is faced with this situation. He is raised from violence and deprivation of care throughout his life, but, despite this, he was able to fight through the pain inflicted on him and pursue his passion for his beloved sport; hockey. Without knowing Saul and how he got to the star-caliber player that he is, people saw him for his color before his skills. This proves that our society can be ill-minded and judgemental. The book Indian Horse reflects a great example of how Canada lives in a dystopian society because indigenous people faced consistent torment throughout the book. This is based on the evidence of the tragic lives that aboriginals experienced in residential schools, the struggle and hardship that Saul had to face during his hockey career, and the regret that he had when he quit hockey which translated into his addiction to alcohol.

To begin, life at St. Jerome’s Residential School was a devastating event for Saul and his friends. This was shown in many instances throughout the book. One instance shows Saul getting abducted by a stranger who saw him on the side of the road, who forces him to the school. When they arrived, they were immediately told to strip and get bathed to get ready for class. The kids were then bleached, to make their skin lighter. Next, they were sent to the head office and were told by Sister Ignacia, a nun running the school, that, “Your father is the Heavenly Father. You will learn that here. Your human father has nothing to offer you anymore.” Lonnie, a classmate of Saul, then says, “I don’t want no other father.” which the Sister replies with, “You have no choice.” to which Lonnie retaliates, “I’ll run”. Which leads to the Sister becoming angered at Lonnie because he is disrespectful towards her. She grabbed a paddle and struck him repeatedly behind the knees and on the back of the thighs. The horrific scene was described as sounding like “she was beating a hide”. She then said that, “At St. Jerome’s we work to remove the Indian from our children so that the blessings of the Lord may be evidenced upon them”. These quotes are all reflective on the environment of the residential school and the hardships the children faced. Also, in the novel, two sisters, named Katherine and Rebecca Wolf, experience similar abuse to Saul and Lonnie. At the school, the kids are punished for wetting the bed, and if they repeatedly commit this offense, they are sent to the Iron Sister; a small metal box that a child would be put in for a long time. Katherine Wolf had a problem with wetting the bed, and since she never learned from her mistake, she was put in the Iron Sister. While trapped in the box she dies from suffocating and/or anxiety. Her sister, Rebecca, later learns of what happened to her younger sister and becomes depressed. After, Saul is at the barn outside the school and starts practicing shots, when he hears faint singing in the background. He spots Rebecca, she is found, “standing in the rough grass of the Indian yard, her palms raised to the sky, and she was singing in Ojibway. It was a mourning song. I could tell that from the feel of the syllables”. Shortly after, Rebecca committed suicide. This showcases the lives that many indigenous children had to suffer through. They had to live under very strict rules and restrictions, which led to some of the kids becoming mentally ill and taking their problems out on themselves, causing many suicides.

Moreover, in the novel, discrimination is seen many times taken on Saul. Throughout the book, Saul is the main target of racism and we observe the differences between himself and society. When he is introduced to his new teammates from the Toronto Marlboros, Saul mentions that he is hurt by the fact that he is an outsider, instead of the words being said to him, “These guys weren’t mean. They weren’t vicious. They were just indifferent, and that hurt a whole lot more”. He also brings up, “They wouldn’t let me be just a hockey player. I always had to be the Indian.” referring to those whom see Saul. He is constantly judged by society because they haven’t seen someone of his race play to his caliber. Furthermore, when Saul tried to fit in with the general public, he received backlash every time. If he were to be rough, people would say that he’s “counting coup” or that he “was taking scalps” and if he were to be soft, he “was the stoic Indian”, meaning that if he were to retaliate against his opponents, the community would refer to acts as his indigenous backwards mind. He was considered bitter because during a game he was intentionally hit in the back of his legs. Instead of the fans feeling sympathy for him, they laughed at him, “The Knights centre slashed me behind the knees and I fell to the ice… The crowd howled. My teammates even laughed… I dropped the gloves and started swinging.” Considering the fact that Saul was abused by the community, there is much evidence to back this claim up because it is seen that his teammates and fans disrespect him.

Further in the novel we glimpse at Saul’s self hatred based on society’s judgement towards him. Saul talks about how the racism he endured made him feel, “When that happened, I knew that the game could not offer me protection any longer. The truth of the abuse and the rape of my innocence were closer to the surface, and I used anger and rage and physical violence to block myself off from it.” Here, he is saying that hockey used to give him freedom and protection, but in reality, it wasn’t helping him and made things worse. This leads to him quitting the sport out of the bloom. Similarly, Saul goes on about how his mentor was never his friend and scarred him. “You’re free. That’s what Father Leboutilier had told me that last time I saw him. Free to go where the game could take me. I shook with anger as I recalled it. I was never free. He was my captor, the warder of my innocence. He had used me. I felt hate, acrid and hot.” He was always told by Father Leboutilier, “You are a glory, Saul, which were the words he used instead of love, that was the phrase that began the groping. The tugging, the pulling and the sucking”. He was told that he could play when he was older, but would have to clean the ice and keep their dark secret. He loved the idea of being loved so much that he was willing to do anything for him. These recurring thoughts led to him relying on alcohol to keep up his sanity, this turns into an addiction “I let myself mourn. Allowed every ounce of sorrow and desperation, loneliness and regret to eke out of me. I cried until I couldn’t cry anymore.” He later decides to get help at the New Dawn Centre “I went back because I wanted to share the truth I had discovered locked deep inside me. I went back because I wanted to learn how to live with it without drinking.” He explains he went because he needed to resolve an addiction caused by the emotional stress from his upcoming. All in all, Saul’s treatment by others as a result of society’s standards led him to question his worth.

To conclude, Saul had to endure being assaulted physically, verbally and sexually for nothing other than the colour of his skin. This atrocity happened in the place he seeked shelter and was forced to abide by a culture that did not align with his values. He also had to undergo societal pressure by the people he took in as his friends. Finally, it is shown across the story that Saul’s societal issues led to theories of self doubt, which caused him to spiral into a deep depression and develop an alcohol addiction. All of these points explain the distress the indigenous faced and how it reflects Canada as a dystopian society.

Works Cited

  1. Wagamese, Richard. Indian Horse: a Novel. Douglas & McIntyre, 2018.

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