Representation of Residential School Trauma in "Indian Horse"

A good childhood experience reflects greatly upon how you act as you get older, school life for a child should be memorable and should be able to apply the teachings to their own lives, but unfortunately, that's not what Saul Indian Horse can relate to. Richard Wagamese’s novel Indian Horse illustrates the trauma and abuse that Saul Indian Horse endures at St. Jeromes, an Indian Residential school where the nuns and priests are bound to enculturate the Canadian Culture into them. Children are taken away from there families and are forced to live at these residential schools and obligated to follow their ways. Saul is negatively impacted by the residential through his identity from being separated from his family, stripping him of his culture that made him feel unworthy and by the endurance of the trauma and abuse he suffers. So to discuss the issue of residential schools and their impact on Indigenous communities, this essay analyzes Richard Wagamese’s novel Indian Horse.

Saul was taken away from his family by the white men also known as the Zhanagush to St.Jermomes. Naiomi and Saul were both on there way to Minaki to meet her nephew Minoose, on the way there they encountered many obstacles such as there canoe breaking down in the river and not having much clothing to keep them warm, once they got to Minaki Naiomi passed away with Saul in her arms and the Zhanagush spots him and takes him away in there car with a blanket over him. Saul states “Somebody lifted me up I felt the old woman's arms fall away, I reached out to her shouting in a mixture of Ojibway and English. She stayed slumped in the corner, her hair coated with snow, her hands cupped as though she was still holding on to me. I wanted to pull her to her feet so we could keep walking. But instead, I was borne away”. Saul felt heartbroken and scared, he did not want to be taken away from his grandmother and wanted to continue walking with her. He does not want to leave her dead body there, Saul and his grandmother Naomi are very close with each other, Saul loves her very much, she did everything she could to keep him safe. His grandmother is part of his identity and the white man has taken that part of his identity away, his grandmother is the one person he knows that will always take care of him and be there for him. Being taken away from his grandma was very heartbreaking for Saul, but not more than the stripping of his culture.

At St.Jerome's many children are beaten are being stripped of their culture and rituals that shatters there human spirit. Children who come to residential schools are children who have their own culture and rituals which is part of their identity, just like Saul but that gets taken away by the schools. Saul says “When your innocence is stripped from you when your people are denigrated when the family you came from is denounced and your tribal ways and rituals are pronounced backward, primitive, savage, you come to see yourself as less than human. That is hell on earth, that sense of unworthiness.” It is evident that the children at St.Jeromes and Saul are stripped from everything, their language, clothing, rituals, and traditions. This made them feel unworthy and useless. Saul describes the schools as “hell on earth” meaning they never treated that place as a school but as everyday torture. This also shows that's the threats and beatings belittled the children including Saul and planting that fear in them, it deprives Saul of his identity throughout his life as well as his innocence. Being stripped of a culture and being taught a new one is a lot for a child to endure, but Saul has gone through much more such as being abused by a priest from his school.

Priest and nuns at the school would sexually abuse children at St Jerome's, and unfortunately, Saul is a victim of this and causes him trauma. Father Leboutullier was a priest at St.Jeromes he was a hockey coach and let children play hockey, as well as Saul, even though he was still young. He sexually abused Saul and made him keep quiet about it by letting him play hockey with the other player. Saul states “I loved the idea so much that I kept quiet. I loved the idea of being loved so much that I did what he asked. When I found myself liking it, I felt dirty and repulsive sick”. Father Leboutillier used Saul to stay quiet about the rape, Saul felt loved and he hasn’t felt that love since his grandma died, but at the same time, he feels dirty and repulsive because of the rape. Saul always trusted Father Leboutiller because he always said he was his ally and not as harsh as the other priests and nuns, but it turns out he is no different than the others, other than being a little friendly. This affects Saul’s identity because he always has that rage and that guilt of listening to him and doing what he asked, the guilt and rage stay with him almost his whole life. Even with him being taken away from his grandma and getting his culture taken away he still went through this abuse and is by far the worst.

In conclusion, Saul Indian Horse went through a lot throughout his life, Saul is impacted by the residential through his sense of identity throughout his life. Saul is having a negative impact by the residential schools through his sense of identity from the separation of his family, stripping him of his own culture that makes him feel unimportant and unworthy and lastly by the insurance of the trauma and abuse. Saul was a very kind and nice person, he loved his family very much, the different tragic events that happened to him in his life were something that he did not deserve. He deserves a better life, and the impact that residential schools had on him will stay with him forever.

14 May 2021
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