Indian Horse

Indian Horse is ingrained with prejudice experienced by Canada’s Indigenous people.  Director Stephen S. Campanelli, who is usually hired as a camera operator on mainstream films, gives his audience a firsthand perspective of this chilling history while adapting Richard Wagamese’s award-winning novel of the same name.

I can’t comment on how true the film is to Wagamese’s writing, but I’m comfortable with assuming optimistically due to the author working closely on the production (Wagamese actually passed away before the film was completed).  It’s also encouraging to see actors of Indigenous descent fill out the cast and give respectable performances.  It’s bittersweet too, I suppose, since select cast and crew are able to truly represent the atrocities and hardships of racism and cultural desensitizing.  The actors may not have necessarily experienced the treatment of residential schooling as seen in the film (the Canadian Indian residential school system was put to rest in 1996), but the emotions seen on the faces of newcomers Sladen Peltier, Ajuawak Kapashesit and Edna Manitowabi are hauntingly real.

Those actors play different ages of Saul Indian Horse, a young boy who is separated from his Ojibway family to grow up under the guidance of a Catholic residential school.  The school was one of many institutions that worked hard to phase out Indigenous culture, including bleaching skin and punishing those who spoke in their first language.  After taking an interest in hockey, Saul’s new favourite sport becomes more than a pastime as Saul begins practicing and playing on a team;  even garnering the attention of the big leagues.  However, no matter how his life changes, discrimination follows him.

Narrated by a much-older Saul, Indian Horse is organically constructed with Saul’s fragmented memories.  It isn’t an easy way to form a cohesive narrative, but it’s a successful way to represent a thread of pain and disbelief.  It’s also a tasteful way of handling the unfortunate guarantees that Saul foresees.  However, Indian Horse is such an eye-opening piece of work, it has the power to suggest and persuade for a better future.

Stephen S. Campanelli’s historical drama is a passionate film about reconnecting to your roots and persevering through your past – Indian Horse is a modern Canadian classic.


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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie

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