Indian Horse

imagesThe residential school system is not the only black mark on our country but it has to be the darkest stain. We and our government could not have done worse by our indigenous people if we tried. We should have known from the start that this imperialistic plan would go horribly wrong. After all, we chose to put the Catholic Church in charge of many of these awful residential schools (and not just the Catholic Church, but a bunch of others share the blame, including the Anglican, Presbyterian, and United Churches of Canada), because it wasn’t enough to tear children from their families and literally beat their culture out of them, it seemed appropriate for some reason to facilitate child molestation too, feeding 150,000 potential altar boys and girls to more than a few insatiable priests over the lifetime of the program. 150,000!

Not surprisingly, the end result of this utter disaster was the destruction of generations upon generations of indigenous people, something we cannot ever be ashamed of enough. And this is not something we can blame on our long-dead racist ancestors, since the last residential school did not close until 1996.  1996!

Indian Horse tells the story of one of those unfortunate kids who was sent to residential school, a boy named Saul Indian Horse. Saul happens to be a natural at hockey, quickly becoming the star of the school’s team. But for some reason, despite his hockey-playing prowess, Saul is clearly struggling to find his place. Could the reason for his struggles be that he and everyone he knew were subjected to horrific abuse every single day?

You don’t have to watch Indian Horse to learn that yes, all those years of abuse hurt Saul really, really badly. And you don’t have to watch Indian Horse to grasp that his story is just one of 150,000 about those who were directly and irreparably harmed by residential schools, not to mention the thousands more who were harmed just as badly by the loss of their family members to the schools, and not to mention the subsequent damage caused by attendees of the schools when, surprise, surprise, after being removed from their families and their culture as kids and abused by those who were supposed to take care of them, they were unable to even care for themselves, let alone their children, a cycle that we still haven’t been able to break. But you should watch Indian Horse anyway.

You should watch Indian Horse to remember that to the extent that Saul or any other survivor of residential schools fell short, it’s not for lack of will or effort on their part. It’s because the Canadian government, and by extension the white Canadian majority, failed them monumentally.  Indian Horse demonstrates our country’s massive failure clearly and effectively despite its shoestring budget, while at the same time paying tribute to the inner strength of one survivor who, but for his race, would have been a hockey-loving Canadian kid on his way to stardom.

So here’s to Saul and to each of his friends. I’m so sorry for what you had to suffer through, and I promise not to ever forget it or let anything like this ever happen again.  I know that’s not enough to right these wrongs and nothing ever will be.  But hopefully it is a step in the right direction after hundreds of years of horror. It is truly a shame that the Pope doesn’t feel that way, but hardly surprising the Catholic Church won’t acknowledge any of its wrongdoings – we’ve seen that movie already.

 

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22 thoughts on “Indian Horse

    1. Sean Post author

      Thanks for reblogging. It’s a quiet but effective movie and focusing on one person’s experience helped ground it. It’s such an awful part of our history but at least we have started to talk about it especially in the last ten years, which was long overdue.

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  1. Carrie Rubin

    This sounds like a difficult but necessary movie to watch. I see it’s a book too. I might have to add that to my reading list. Sounds like it would make for a good book-club read.

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    1. Sean Post author

      It is difficult to watch because of the subject matter. The movie takes a very matter-of-fact approach to the horrors of residential school and I think that was a good choice, because the circumstances speak for themselves and because the events probably weren’t remarkable to this poor kid because they were just a fact of life (which is just one more terrible insight into the system).

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  2. Jay

    to the extent that Saul or any other survivor of residential schools fell short, it’s not for lack of will or effort on their part.

    Thanks for that, Sean. It made me cry.

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  3. Liz A.

    The colonial imperial spirit alive and well. Alas. At least many of us recognize the horrors of what was inflicted, and maybe we can commit to never letting such things happen again. (Although, lately I wonder if that’s really possible.)

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    1. Sean Post author

      Never letting these things happen again is definitely a serious promise to make and a difficult one to keep, especially when it seems lately that our society is moving backwards. I think that makes it even more important to try to push things in the right direction. It’s not enough to stand in one place when there is so much progress still to be made.

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  4. J.

    Horrendous stuff. I wasn’t really aware of it all until a few years ago and I was shocked that it was going on until the mid-90s. Shocking.

    I watched Rhymes For Young Ghouls and that led me to some reading online… I read some of the impact stats from the Residential School Experience(??) and it was pretty telling (though hardly surprising) just how detrimental the effects have been. Awful.

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    1. Sean Post author

      The experience has hobbled multiple generations of people. It is a cycle that we don’t really know how to break, as the people affected could not be good parents due to the trauma they suffered, making their kids victims even if they themselves didn’t go to residential school!

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    1. Sean Post author

      Organized religion has done so much harm over the years. I don’t know why we give those organizations so much power. I hope we are moving away from that church-centric approach but here in Canada the Catholic Church has benefits under the Constitution which will be entrenched for a long time to come.

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      1. Paul. Writer and Filmmaker

        It’s sad they have so much power still but that’s due to the money and property they have. I believe faith and religion can provide comfort for many and there are many people who do good. But it’s t would seek those in power, like the Catholic Church, have abused that power. At least films like this and Spotlight reveal their heinous crimes.

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  5. Sarca

    Thank you for your review. I was nodding along with you. 1996!! Not that long ago! What’s worse is this residential school stuff wasn’t in the forefront when I was in school. I am from Sudbury where there is a strong native connection and population, and the residential school system wasn’t something that was taught to me or that we were told about. So I feel pretty awful, betrayed and a fool that this was happening right under my nose. Canada has a lot to answer for. Thank god for our collective awakening to this. I will be watching.

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    1. Sean Post author

      I grew up in Barrie and had the same experience – residential schools were not a topic of conversation at all. Hell, my high school’s sports teams were called the Redskins, complete with super offensive logo, and a ton of students (including me) protested when the school changed the logo (with the name following suit the year after I left). Things seem different now. I think the residential schools settlement has really pushed the conversation in the right direction. Too often people don’t appreciate the positive effects of admitting wrong. It means something and that’s why it is so frustrating that the Pope refused to apologize when the Truth and Reconciliaton Committee asked him to. Regardless, I think/hope Canadians are becoming aware of this massive wrong and that will help us do better from here on out.

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  6. Mike

    Great review….unfortunately as a FN person, I do not feel Indian Horse can be called an Indigenous film….it is a non-Indigenous telling of a very good Indigenous story (the book by Richard Wagamese)….since so many of the key people involved in its making are non-Indigenous….which has to put a non-Indigenous spin onto the film (can’t be helped). There are many Indigenous directors and film makers that could have been involved….there wasn’t. So to me the film was lacking….and actually I was disappointed. Indian Horse the book was too important an Indigenous story not to be told through Indigenous eyes….without distortion.

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