How Richard Wagamese packed such a powerful amount of words into 221 pages, I’ll never know. As the title indicates, Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese is a contender in the upcoming CBC Canada Reads competition, running from February 11-14.
Before I jump into my thoughts on Indian Horse, let me give you a little information about the nation wide battle of the books. This year, things got a little interesting when it came to the battlefield, because CBC decided to target specific provinces, resulting in a terminology they’ve coined the “turf war.” 5 books, 5 regions and 5 celebrity panelists. As Canada Reads website indicates,
“The author must be originally from the region or have spent a substantial amount of time in that region that their novel is nominated to represent.” Source
The first book I picked up to kick off the competition was Indian Horse, mostly because I’ve read Richard Wagamese in university and absolutely loved his writing style. He’s never afraid to tackle issues that can sometimes be difficult to talk about. This philosophy can be applied to this Canada Reads selection, which will be defended by celebrity panelist Carol Huynh in relation to the British Columbia & Yukon region. He introduces us to a young and scared little boy named Saul Indian Horse who faces many obstacles, more obstacles than many of us will ever have to face in our lifetime.
Born to a Ojibway family, his morals and beliefs are strong, especially since his Grandmother instills these beliefs into young Indian Horse. However, times were different in the 1960’s and Saul is eventually sent to live in a residential school. Because of his race, he and his peers are treated like second class citizens as they eat their gruel for dinner, while watching nuns and priests eat delicious looking meals. If there is any “funny business”, a child is sent to the Iron Sister, a chamber of sorts, in the basement. After visiting this cruel punishment, children come back forever changed.
Saul’s tactic to avoid the Iron Sister is to become secluded and quietly help out around the school. That’s when he discovered the sport of hockey. Sitting watching some of his peers play outdoors on the ice gets him intrigued. He was so enthralled, that he would wake up at the crack of dawn and practice with a hidden hockey stick in an effort to practice and be a part of something fun, for once in his life.
Hockey becomes his salvation. He understands the game, he lives for the game. When Father Leboutilier recognizes his talent, things start looking up for Saul. Opportunities that were once outlandish and obscure start becoming a reality, through the power of sport. But even with change and growth, a person is eventually forced to acknowledge their past. I believe in the theory that in order to move forward, you must accept your past, process it and move forward. Unfortunately, that’s not something Saul has done and this path to recovery is a rocky one.
What transpires is a beautiful coming of age story, filled with the importance of self worth, acceptance and perseverance.
I’ll be interested to see how Carol Huynh represents this book based on the fact that she’s a competitor. For those of you that don’t know, she’s a Olympic medalist, who definitely understands the importance of recreational sports and perseverance. When I watched her at the Canada Reads press conference, I was blown away at how poised and prepared she was to represent this book. My thoughts are that this book will make it close to the end of the competition as it’s a strong contender that has lots of lessons for Canada to learn. Even if this book doesn’t win or make it to the end, it comes highly recommended from me as I thought it was a stunning read that any Canadian resident will enjoy!
Watch Carol Huynh defend her British Columbia & Yukon selection here.