by Richard Wagamese
Saul Indian Horse is a child when his family retreats into the woods. Among the lakes and the cedars, they attempt to reconnect with half-forgotten traditions and hide from the authorities who have been kidnapping Ojibway youth. But when winter approaches, Saul loses everything: his brother, his parents, his beloved grandmother—and then his home itself.
Alone in the world and placed in a horrific boarding school, Saul is surrounded by violence and cruelty. At the urging of a priest, he finds a tentative salvation in hockey. Rising at dawn to practice alone, Saul proves determined and undeniably gifted. His intuition and vision are unmatched. His speed is remarkable. Together they open doors for him: away from the school, into an all-Ojibway amateur circuit, and finally within grasp of a professional career. Yet as Saul’s victories mount, so do the indignities and the taunts, the racism and the hatred—the harshness of a world that will never welcome him, tied inexorably to the sport he loves.
Spare and compact yet undeniably rich, Indian Horse is at once a heartbreaking account of a dark chapter in our history and a moving coming-of-age story.
Discussion questions from SOMN
- The story is told as a first person narrative. How did you react to Saul? Did your attitudes toward him change during the novel, and if so, what brought about those changes?
- The novel vividly describes the effects on Saul when he is sent to a residential school. How did reading the novel change your understanding of the residential school system and the lasting harm it has caused?
- Indian Horse illustrates some of the ways in which Canada has failed First Nations peoples. How does this compare to the United States? Can you think of any other examples of ways the US or Canada has failed First Nations peoples?
- Did you know that the ADA, the Americans with Disabilities Act, provides protections for individuals with PTSD? Did you know that it also covers alcoholism? Do you think Saul benefited from these protections when things become too much for him? Do you think the ADA was written with someone like Saul in mind? What supports and strengths does Saul have for healing from trauma he experienced, and what are the barriers or roadblocks to healing for him?
Classroom activities from SOMN
- Watch the film adaptation of this novel. Discuss the adaptation. What was the same? What was different? How did your experience of the story change watching it vs. reading it?
- As a class, learn about Land Acknowledgements and create a statement for your school. Be creative. Here is an example from Northwestern.
- Plan to attend a cultural event in a local tribal community. Learn about the event and make sure that the event is open to the general public. Learn about expectations and customs around attending. Discuss what you observed, learned, and experienced afterwards.