This guest post was contributed by Harriet van Wart. She’s part of the awesome and super dedicated team at the Land and Resources Office for the Lil’wat Nation, and an avid reader.
At work the other day Chief Lucinda Phillips handed me a book, looked me square in the eyes and said, “you should read this.”
“Okay.” What else was I going to say?
When I brought it I home, my husband read it first. He blazed through it in a couple of days and loved it. I was eager to have my turn.
The book is a novel called Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese. It is beautifully written and captures your attention from the first. The story takes you through the life of an Ojibway boy named Saul Indian Horse who grows up in northern Ontario through the 1950’s and 60’s. You experience his early years as a young boy living on the land and learning traditional ways from his Grandmother. Then to residential school where he finds his love for hockey that he relies on to cope with through the horrors of the school. He then goes on to live on the Manitouwadge reserve. There you experience the “rez” culture, native hockey tournaments, and the wonderful camaraderie among native communities. Love of hockey exudes throughout.
What lingers for me now is how Canadian this book is. It tells such an important part of our Canadian history and culture. Sadly, it is a part of Canada we do not often see in our museums or history books.
This was apparent for me over the Easter weekend when my family and I visited a small town museum in the Fraser Valley. Having just finished this book, it struck me how the First Nations people had such little presence in this museum. Granted, there was a tiny room devoted to Sto:lo people and culture. But there was no telling of a community who lost their children to residential schools. Or what it was like for all those children who were forced away from the love and security of their homes. There was no telling of the reserve land system, and the racial segregation embedded in our laws.
It became very clear to me how this part of our history continues too easily to be a blind spot for Canadians.
The story of Ojibway teachings, residential school, reserve culture, and the experience of racism told so eloquently by Wagamese are all very much a part of our Canadian history. And, of course, the joy of hockey too. It is what makes this book so good.
I may not have the gravitas of Chief Phillips looking you square in the eye, but I will say it anyway – read this book.