Sunday, November 8, 2020

Book Review: "Indian Horse" by Richard Wagamese


The last book I reviewed, A Perfect Storm by Mike Martin, led me to this month's book. The main character in the Sgt. Windflower Mystery series is a Cree RCMP officer. He maintains traditional practices, and reads Embers: One Ojibway's Meditations by Richard Wagamese for solace and inspiration. After reviewing books by Wagamese, I selected Indian Horse to be my first.

Indian Horse is a novel about Saul Indian Horse, an Ojibway from Northern Ontario. He was raised by his grandmother in traditional ways, but at age eight he was forced to live at an Indian residential school.

Residential schools were funded by the Department of Indian Affairs and administered by churches. Their purpose was to expunge Indigenous ways and inculcate Canadian culture. Attendance for school age children was compulsory from 1894 until an unconscionable 1996 when the last closed. 

Not only were Indigenous children ripped from their families during formative years, they were subjected to physical, emotional and sexual abuses, and too many died from harsh conditions and torture. The result is generations of First Nation peoples alienated from their culture and language, lacking education, and experiencing post-traumatic syndrome and racism.

Indian Horse takes us through this dark period through the eyes of Saul. The book opens with him telling the reader that he has been told he needs to tell the stories to understand where he is from and where he is going. As his story unfolds, we can feel his joy and sadness, his success and failure, his anguish and emergence from a blocked out horrific experience. 

Canadians are going through a reconciliation process to "redress the legacy of residential schools." In 2008, then Prime Minister Harper issued an apology on behalf of the Canadian government. That same year the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established to hear testimony.  Their "Call to Action" was finally released in 2015.

A community traditional canoe carving reconciliation project.

Towns like Powell River across Canada brought Settlers (non-Indigenous Canadians) and First Nation members together to have hard conversations and to develop a better understanding of the ramifications of racial prejudice and subjugation. As a Settler in my native U.S.A. and my Canadian home I personally have a lot of work to do to reconcile my life of white privilege with systemic racism.

Indian Horse was the "People's Choice" Award of Canada Reads and First Nations Community Reads winner in 2012.  It's not an easy read, but the message is important especially now. I highly recommend Indian Horse and am looking forward to my next Richard Wagamese book.

Here's another book related to truth and reconciliation. Powell River is located on traditional land of the Tla'amin First Nation, a Coast Salish tribe. Written As I Remember It by elder Elsie Paul tells about this same period of time from a local perspective. 

Raised by her grandparents and hidden from authorities during fall sweeps, she was forced to attend the Sechelt Residential School at age ten. He memoir includes Tla'amin Nation history from oral traditions to the present as her people move away from Indian Act control to a self-governing nation. 

 Both books are available online including Amazon. -- Margy

There's the monthly Book Review Club for teen/young adult and adult fiction over at Barrie Summy's blog.

Check out Booknificent Thursdays at Mommynificent.com

Also shared with Your the Star at Stone Cottage Adventures and Book Review Linkup at Lovely Audio Books.

19 comments :

  1. What awful times. We've got to reconcile. Our history is shameful, but we all must read it, I believe. It's as bad as slavery. I live in such a racist county.

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    1. Both the U.S. and Canada have past and present atrocities to reconcile. - Margy

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  2. This does sound like an important read. And a tough one. It's horrible the things we humans can do to each other. Thank you for reviewing. I added this title to my TBR pile.

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  3. Very interesting book, for all lovers of reading around the world, now that it seems that a general alienation of all and everything is being tried...

    Have a fine day, Margy!

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  4. Thank you for sharing this. I am so sad about it but glad that these awful things are being recognized and apologized for.

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    1. Apologizes are important, but we must move forward into action. - Margy

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  5. This sounds interesting. We are in the same place in Australia, but not quite as advanced (grown up?) about it as you (Canada) seems. I've been learning a lot in the last few years and it's sort of amazing what you become aware of - and how oblivious you can be, as an old lady who never really thought much about it. There is a podcast you might be interested in called Debutante: Race, Resistance and Girl Power in Audible. Not on Native Americans/Canadians but some of the same issues would have occurred. Anyway, the book sounds like a good but difficult read. Nice review.

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    1. Thanks for the reference. All areas have native peoples and they have rarely fared well after colonization or overthrow. - Margy

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  6. The US had schools like that. There was one in Riverside not far from me. Terrible. Thanks for the reviews. Tweeted and shared.

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    1. I know. And many other countries and cultures. - Margy

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  7. What a tragic history! A friend of mine's aunt was sent to a similar school for Native Americans in the US and was severed from her family. The cover of his novel is gorgeous and I love the story of how you discovered it from another series. Thanks for the review!

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    1. And to think they were religious groups doing it. I often find links to new books reading others. - Margy

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  8. Your gave such a concise and thoughtful explanation of this horror (which happened here in the US as well as you know) . I put this book on my TBR list and after reading your post below went to Amazon and ordered the first Windflower book. I’m looking forward to starting it after I finish the three Kindle library books that somehow slipped off my hold list all at once. ...

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    1. Mike Martin is always coming out with a new book. I'm reviewing his Christmas collection of stories for December. On another note, we finally got back to Tucson and the RV is fine. - Margy

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  9. Thank you for putting up the review. It seems like an interesting yet tragic book. It seems like a story that needs to be told.

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  10. Oh wow









    Oh wow on just about every point in your description of this book there is an overlap to my own interests, books. I connect to life story and family. It must be a perfect storm of coincidence.


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    1. Richard Wagamese has written several other books as well. - Margy

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Thanks for stopping by. Comments, questions, and suggestions are always welcome. - Margy