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Eradicating racism and removing barriers to inclusion is not straightforward, however, it can be accomplished with perseverance. Although perseverance is a difficult attribute for one to possess, it is the most essential trait when it comes to achieving success. An example of perseverance is represented in Richard Wagamese’s award-winning novel, Indian Horse, through his main character, Saul Indian Horse. Indian Horse is a novel presented in Saul’s perspective of a Canadian First Nations boy living in the early 1960s who comes from the Fish Clan of the northern Ojibway, also known as the Anishinabegs. Racism is first introduced in the novel when Saul is taken to St. Jerome’s Residential School by two white men where students are severely punished for speaking their mother tongue and are forced into Christianity. During his stay at St. Jerome’s he finds a love for hockey and joins an Indian hockey team called the Moose as a great escape from the horrible circumstances at school. Unfortunately, this was not the case as he continued to face horrid taunts and racial comments from opposing teams and fans of the game. However, things take a turn as Saul becomes more aggressive during games and gets kicked out of the team, resulting in binge drinking alcohol which he eventually tried quitting altogether. Although Saul encounters multiple challenges regarding his ethnicity, he chooses not to let skeptics take advantage of him as he positively copes by playing hockey as an escapism from the harsh reality of residential school, utilizes opposer’s words as fuel to become stronger in the sport, and is able to redeem himself from the disease of alcoholism. In Indian Horse, Richard Wagamese presents the idea that although racial prejudice plays a huge role in the complications of Saul’s life, he manages to stay persevere and achieve success despite those challenges.
To begin, Saul is proved to showcase perseverance during times of darkness and abandonment. At a young age, Saul and his grandmother Naomi decide to travel down the river where they witness fierce snowstorms and blizzards. There, Naomi falls into the snow with Saul in her arms, which is when she sadly freezes to death. Two white men arrive and notice, they proceed to take Naomi’s body and bring Saul to St. Jerome’s Residential School where other indigenous children are kept. For many students including Saul, St. Jerome’s is a horrible environment which he describes to be ‘hell on earth’, as his friends and family are taken away from him, he is left feeling ostracized and alone in a place that threatens and beats kids for speaking non-English, disobeying rules, and refusing to partake in certain activities. Due to the awful conditions at St. Jerome’s, many students and close friends of Saul took their own lives as a way to let their spirits be free. Despite the unfortunate, although Saul does consider taking his own life at times, he omits to allow himself to fall weak and seeks to find a powerful aspect that would enable him to experience freedom again. “When I hit the ice I left all of that behind me. I stepped onto the ice and Saul Indian Horse, the abandoned Ojibway kid, clutched in the frozen arms of his grandmother, ceased to exist”. Throughout his time in residential school, Saul encounters Father Gaston Leboutilier who is the coach of the hockey team at St. Jerome’s. Father Leboutilier is his only protector and encourages Saul to participate in the sport in which he agrees on. As Saul mentions that once he set foot on the ice, his despondency and sorrow were all overpassed. Saul’s love for hockey arises as he notices that it not only becomes a passion of his, but also an escape from the harsh reality.
As time progresses, Saul’s love for hockey turns into something far greater, with the help of Father Leboutilier he becomes a brilliant player and is offered a spot on an Indian hockey team called the Moose. However, Saul’s exceptional talent in the sport does not eliminate the fact that he is still seen as an Indian boy. Due to this, Saul begins to further experience such bigotry as him being a ‘red-skin’ in a supposedly ‘white person’s game’ gives opposing team players and fans of the game a chance to belittle him. During one game, the audience was making disrespectful remarks towards Saul, yelling names such as ‘chicken’ repeatedly while throwing rubbish at the players. After the game was over, Saul went to the dressing room with his head down not uttering a single word. Once he settles down, he displays his thoughts through his narration:
There are times in this world when you have to look hard at yourself. The challenge you
feel is the one that burns in your gut. I knew my team wanted me to buckle. They wanted
me to bare my fists and fight. But I would not do that. I would surrender my vision of the
game. I would not let go of my dream of it, the freedom, the release it gave me, the joy
the game gave me. It wasn’t anybody else’s game to take away from me.
Saul immediately recognized the true impact hockey would have on his life the moment he first stepped on the rink. In Sauls’s perspective, hockey has a much deeper meaning in his heart as it was considered his dream, his freedom and his source of joy. Throughout Saul’s journey, he is not only confronted by racism and prejudice, but also abuse and trauma. Due to this, he finds it hard for himself to live with himself while his surroundings tell him to give way under pressure. Instead, Saul decides to demonstrate his skills and let the audience see what Saul, a ‘red-skinned’ individual is capable of obtaining.
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