As part of a four-week exploration of relationships between indigenous neighbours and Central Saanich United Church, the movie Indian Horse drew eight members of our congregation to Sidney’s Star Cinema for the matinee showing on May 8. The group expressed universal approval of the production but also an equal amount of thoughtful quietness afterwards. Most of the group felt too moved by the story to want to discuss it in the lobby afterwards.
The story opens with the family travelling north on the Winnipeg river to escape the clutches of the residential school system. A powerful story by the late Richard Wagamese recounts a young boy’s early years with his family in Northern Ontario on trap lines. A breakdown of the family after the death of a brother with tuberculosis on that boy’s return from residential school, left the hero, Saul Indian Horse alone with his grandmother Naomi living off the land. Saul’s mother was determined to find a priest to bury her dead son and left with her husband. A bitter winter storm stranded the grandmother and Saul who had been waiting for the return of Saul’s parents. The tragedy of his grandmother’s death leaves Saul vulnerable to capture by authorities and his incarceration in a residential school run by the Catholic church.
Saul’s gift for playing hockey gives him a passion and an escape from the daily abuse at the school. The story shows one of the darkest chapters in Canada’s history: the terrible goings-on at Canadian-Indian residential schools where aboriginal children were taught to be good Christians, far removed from their own culture and heritage.
Three different actors play the role of Saul at different ages. The younger actors far outstripped the adult actor, who fights alcoholism as he is separated from the team called ‘the Moose’ where Saul found a family and a gift for playing hockey.
Several of the church members at the showing had read the book before seeing the movie. The differences between the stories didn’t spoil the experience.