Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese Book Review
Some people strive to know more about themselves and some already know what they want to know and yet we all know that identity is something we hold sacred because it is the one thing about us that shouldn’t be changed by negative influences. George RR Martin once said, “Never forget what you are, for surely the world will not. Make it your strength. Then it can never be your weakness. Armour yourself in it, and it will never be used to hurt you”. Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese is about a young Indigenous boy named Saul Indian Horse, who survives residential schools and finds a passion for the sport of hockey. A talented player, Saul must endure the racism and hardships that present themselves. Will Saul be able to move forward with his dream of playing hockey, or will he lose determination? In every case, heritage, personal experiences, and personality are the key contributors to one's identity and are important owing to the fact that understanding one's heritage will allow one to recognize what it took to make it this far. Identity can change in an instant or remain the same, it all depends on the experiences and how one deals with them.
Learning about one’s culture and heritage is essential in fully understanding who one is. Firstly, Saul introduces himself while acknowledging his full heritage. To introduce himself, Saul says, “My name is Saul Indian Horse. I am the son of Mary Mandamin and John Indian Horse. My grandfather was called Solomon so my name is the diminutive of his. My people are from the Fish Clan of the northern Ojibway, the Anishinabeg, we call ourselves” (Saul 1). Like most novels, a self-introduction is imminent. Saul tells us he is a person from the Fish Clan and that he is Anishnabeg. This introduction gives us an idea of who he is and where he comes from while also letting us know that he understands who he is. Secondly, Saul begins to have visions that help him to better understand his heritage. In the book, Saul says “I knew now why Gods Lake belonged to our family: because part of our family had died there, and their spirits still spoke from the trees” (Saul 25). Saul understands how he must never abandon his homeland because it is where his history lies. The spirits that died there spoke to Saul, reminding him that this was their land and that he must remember that. This quote also emphasizes the strong connection Saul has with the spirits and his land. Lastly, Saul’s belief in culture allows him to see the hidden path with help from the voices. In the book, Saul says “I squinted at the impenetrable wall of trees. There was nothing to indicate a trail. But I closed my eyes. I could hear the hiss of the river coursing past the rocks. I hauled in a deep lungful of air and raised my head. I felt snowflakes land on my upturned face. “Saul,” I heard from the trees”(Saul 40). Saul’s belief becomes his strength and it helps him become strong with the spirits. Saul’s belief continues to be one of the things we know most about him. Saul understands that his heritage is an important part of him and that he has a strong connection because he understands and believes in his heritage.
Saul loses touch with his roots as he is taken away and quickly realizes that these people do not want him to be who he is. Firstly, Residential schools change the culture of many and make them forget who they really are. In the book, Saul’s mother says “But those ways are gone. Those Gods are dead. We need to take my son to the priest so that he can be returned to the bosom of Christ”(Saul’s Mother 32). Saul’s mother had already gone to a residential school and did not believe in the Anishinabeg ways anymore. She doesn't honour her heritage and only honours the Christian religion. She is a victim of the horrible system and had her beliefs and identity altered at the hands of the white people. This shows the influence of the residential schools on the Indigenous people’s traditions and their way of life. Secondly, The nun changed the beautiful and meaningful name that was given to Lonnie Rabbit. In the book, Sister Ignacia says “But we’re going to have to do something about Lonnie Rabbit. I think Aaron is more suitable. From now on you are Aaron Rabbit. Do you understand?”(Sister Ignacia 45). The nun believes she's doing the right thing by changing the name of a child. The child has already been stripped from their parents and they even changed the name that was given to them. A name is also part of your identity as it is what everyone will know you as and is an integral part of your heritage because many names were names that were special in their history. Changing those names causes them to lose touch with who they are. Lastly, The nun states how her mission is to get rid of anything that doesn’t fit their norm. In the book, Sister Ignacia says “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”(Sister Ignacia 46). The nun once again believes that she is doing the right thing. Indian is who they are and yet she is trying to change that like it’s something bad. They are trying to strip away their identity and remodel it into their own image. Saul realizes that the only purpose of residential schools was to erase all ideas of culture and to enforce a new culture that would change who they are.
Saul endures hardships against him as he continues to strive for greatness on his hockey team but falls short after recurring racist acts against his heritage. Firstly, no one seems to accept Indigenous people for who they are. In the book, Saul says “I was taunted endlessly. They called me Indian Whores, Horse Piss, Stolen Pony. Elbows and knees were constantly flying at me”(Saul 164). These acts discriminate against someone that is different. Saul had a tremendous amount of skill and would’ve been going to the NHL but couldn’t because the stress of being name-called on a daily basis for being who he is was too much for a young boy to handle. Secondly, The previous acts of hate that occurred in Saul’s life causes him to abandon his life. In the book, Saul says “That part of myself was a tale long dead, one that held nothing for me”(Saul 177). The racist people cause Saul to give up hope on who he was before. His identity is gone because he gave up on who he is. The people caused him to give up. The bright future Saul had made for himself had been ruined because of others. Lastly, Saul retreats and refinds his connection with the spirits back home. In the book, Saul says “My brother. My uncle. My aunt. My grandmother. I wept at the sight of them. My grandmother held a finger to her lips and crinkled the corners of her eyes at me. Then they turned, and the old man lifted my grandmother up onto the horse’s back. My family walked slowly into the depths of the fog, and I could hear them singing as they retreated”(Saul 193). Saul gives up on his dream of hockey. He realizes that dealing with people who don’t accept him for who he is, is not worth the trouble. In a way, they are the reason Saul retraces his steps back to his homeland but they are also the reason he forgot about it in the first place. He stays in his homeland and the spirits start talking to him again. showing his family and how their spirits are safe. These acts cause Saul to retrace his roots and reconnect but also cause him to lose the opportunity to play hockey and change his life.
Identity is what gives one clues on how to identify someone or something. Where one is from, what one does and who one is are all clues to one’s identity but even those can change. Identity is something that is with us since birth because it is who we are. Identity can be changed in the weirdest ways and sometimes we can find our way back to who we used to be. Identity can be altered easily when others make one believe that one is something else or when others give one false idea and they get inside one’s head. Identity should be held sacred because one’s identity is never set in stone. It can change for various reasons, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse and one may occasionally forget who one is but the important thing is to not let anyone control one’s identity.