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With growth from childhood to adolescence, comes a struggle to shift into your own person. Whether that may be evolving into your own version of your self, or an alteration to become someone else’s vision of who you should be. When a young child is forced away from their family, in attempt to erase tradition and culture, starting over is terrifying. The struggle and journey to cultivate your own path, all while thrown into an entirely new culture, will be met with constant struggle. This is why, the harrowing struggles with abuse and addictions are so highly illustrated in Saul’s story in Indian Horse.
With a childhood filled with many systems of cycling abuse, Saul must find an escape. During his younger years, hockey filled the void. By joining a local hockey league, Saul could focus on the game and his teammates, and turn his mind away from reality. “We were hockey gypsies, heading down another gravel road every weekend, plowing into the heart of that magnificent northern landscape. We never gave a thought to being deprived as we travelled, to being shut out of the regular league system. We never gave a thought to being Indian. Different. We only thought of the game and the brotherhood that bound us together off the ice, in the van, on the plank floors of reservation houses, in the truck stop diners where if we’d won we had a little to splurge on a burger and soup before we hit the road again. Small joys. All of them tied together, entwined to form an experience we would not have traded for any other. We were a league of nomads, mad for the game, mad for the road, mad for ice and snow, an Arctic wind on our faces and a frozen puck on the blade of our sticks”. With some natural talent and the newfound rookie skills, Saul brought his all to every game. Undersized, yet not undertalented, Saul is rewarded by joining a new hockey team. Racism soon rears it’s ugly head, and Saul is kicked off the team for his heritage, ‘Indian’. Within the peaks and valleys of the story, Saul is soon rewarded with an invitation to join the ‘Moose team’ and settle with a new family. When Saul begins to travel for with his team, fighting becomes the new norm. The opposing teams “grew vengeful and no cheap shot went unpaid with fists.”
Saul’s gift and natural talent for hockey, doesn’t charm his teammates. Constantly, subjected to racial slurs, physical and mental abuse whilst playing his game, his addiction and escape. Saul’s small frame, was a chance for a double body check, or a chance for the other team to surround him and in Saul’s words a chance to “chase me, hit me, grab me. Everytime I touched the puck in those sessions, a body was there. Everytime I turned, someone was right up against me.” This cyclical pattern of abuse that Saul endures does not leave the physical mark one might assume, more so it strikes deeper with hidden wounds. The constant struggle to persevere through all this while still successfully leading his teams to victories, despite the underlying issues, truly shows a strong disposition, unlike any I’ve seen before. How a child, so young to be saddled with such heavy and burdening life experiences could still have the drive and such obligation to ‘his team’ is remarkable.
With parents who survived the destruction of culture and tradition within these schools, it leaves a void of hope that Saul may in fact survive it to. As he grows older, he follows in his parent’s footsteps by turning to a damaging dependence on alcohol. When subjected to the amount of trauma, and constant yet unbroken patterns of abuse that is the underlying issue at the book at hand. It offers the reader and inside look into the terror and agony that these unsuspecting children had to endure during the spell of these horrendous religiously funded Residential Schools. The significance of addiction and how it’s lead into a focus on repressing these painful emotions its no wonder, an issue of dependency on substance or alcohol was created for many. Though today, our country is trying to reconcile with the survivors, how do we as a country even begin to signify the horror that was at the front hand of who we had assumed would be righteous and caring people, chosen to care for the innocence of the children. How does a country even begin an apology to the survivors, to their children, and lastly to their grandchildren. These schools were at the best downplayed, throughout the years, until finally we have brought forth an action to bring these truths public.
Addiction is an escape for Saul, his hockey is also an escape. Lastly, to all the children who could not suffer any longer and who chose to end, to soon, their young lives, in an attempt to extricate their freedom in the only fathomable way they could see. I see Saul and his story, his story of his addictions, as a survival mechanism. “Now I had a different reason for needing to be away. So I drifted. When I could find work I was mostly a high functioning drunk, keeping just enough in hand to get me through the day, and then sinking into the drink alone when the day was over. I’d pass out listening to music or with a book cradled in my lap. I’d wake up in the early hours, switch off the light, take a few swallows and fall back asleep.”
If he chose to relay his focus on something other than what was happening during his adolescence, then he chose to fight and survive this torturous path. The only substantial positivity I could find at the end of this book, was the self healing. The journey to set oneself out on a path to heal the travesties and self connect with the elders and family, that were torn away from. Not only Saul, but all of these young children. Saul was only a child when he was stolen from his family, subjected to such pain that he was forced to make a quick descent into adulthood. For any child, regardless of the situation, when thrown into such situation. Having to become an adult so soon, never lets the child truly experience the childhood that so many others have gotten a chance to fully immerse themselves in, the actual joy of just being a child.
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