An adaptation of Richard Wagamese’s award winning novel, this moving and important timely film (showing in select markets) sheds light on the dark history of Canada’s Residential Schools and the indomitable spirit of Indigenous people. Wagamese, an Ojibway from the Wabaseemoong First Nation in Northwestern Ontario, passed away last year.
Producers, Christine Haebler and Trish Dolman, were acutely aware that two white women making “Indian Horse”, could be controversial. They consulted within the Indigenous community to gauge their thoughts. Across the board they were encouraged to move forward.
In the late 1950’s Ontario, eight-year-old Saul Indian Horse is torn from his Ojibway family and committed to one of Canada’s notorious Catholic Residential Schools. In this oppressive environment, Saul is denied the freedom to speak his language or embrace his Indigenous heritage while he witnesses horrendous abuse at the hands of the very people entrusted with his care. Despite this, Saul finds salvation in the unikeliest of places and favourite Canadian pastime-hockey. Fascinated by the game, he secretly teaches himself to play, developing a unique and rare skill. He seems to see the game in a way no other player can. His talent leads him away from the misery of the school, eventually leading him to play with the pros. But the ghosts of Saul’s past are always present, and threaten to derail his promising career and future. Forced to confront his painful past, Saul draws on the spirit of his ancestors and the understanding of his friends to begin the process of healing.
Saul Indian Horse’s story is one that needs to be shared with all Canadians; settler and Indigenous-Canadians alike. The story is one of loss and fear, but also one of hope and resilience, dramatically revealing 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. Its aftermath highlights a blight which continues with the troubled Truth and Reconciliation hearings, a situation that has yet to be fully resolved.
This is the second feature for Montreal-born director Stephen Campanelli, who has collaborated with Clint Eastwood as a camera operator on the actor/director’s movies. Eastwood is credited as executive producer of “Indian Horse”.