From Horror And Hockey Night
Richard Wagamese Looks at Canada’s Great Shame Through Its Great Game
Right and wrongs are concepts, scars are concrete. This is the wisdom of Richard Wagamese’s heartbreaking protagonist Saul Indian Horse.
By the time he was eight, Saul, a northern Ojibway, had watched his family’s entire camp be crushed in a rock slide, saw his brother die of tuberculosis and woke up near frozen in his dead grandmother’s arms to be taken to St. Jerome’s Indian Residential School where things become infinitely worse.
Wagamese’s description of life in that ‘school’ will first give you chills and later on nightmares. “(T)here are holes in the universe that swallow all light, all bodies.St. Jerome’s took all the light from my world.” I won’t attempt to try to reproduce the terror he captures,except to say Wagamese refrains from over-dramatizing the horror, letting hissentences slap like a butcher tenderizing a side of beef.
Although the school leaves Saul a “withdrawn boy, void of feeling,” it also introduces him to hockey. On the ice, Saul rediscovers the magic and mystery about which his grandmother had taught him. He becomes a different creature. Hockey dispels his loneliness.
Writing with gravitas about an all-too real tragedy is a feat beyond most writers – as is being able to capture the feeling of sport. But Wagamese alternates between horror and Hockey Night inCanada, like he’s an all-star centre flawlessly firing backhand shots.
But, for Saul, the residential school and the hockey rink aren’t all that different – the white of the ice is not so pristine.“The game was my life … The white people thought it was their game. They thought it was their world.”
With a natural feel for the game, Saul’s abilities look like they can save him. Everyone remarks on his potential, and tries to harness it. But racism and scars of the past throttle Saul’s development. If you could read my copy of Indian Horse, you’d find much of the book’s pages dog-eared for their importance.
Wagamese has crafted one powerful book. Avoiding heavy-handed moralization, Wagamese tells Saul’s life story guided by his physical and psychological scars.
Through the lens of a hockey story of a young man“born for more,”Indian Horse forces you to wonder about all of Canada’s residential school children. They too were born for more.
Mike Landry is the Telegraph-Journal’s arts and culture editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.