Monday June 25 @ 5:15 & 7:30

Indian Horse

A young Ojibwe boy is separated from his family and sent to a residential school in northern Ontario, where he and his fellow students are subjected to inhumane treatment. They’re forced to give up their language, their culture, even their names. The boy, Saul Indian Horse, eventually finds an escape in hockey, a sport for which he has a natural ability. Yet even as the game allows him to eventually leave the school and find some success in the minor leagues, he can’t outskate the past. This film is an adaptation of the late Richard Wagamese’s 2012 novel of the same name. Canada, Drama, 2017, 100 minutes

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Indian Horse: Memories, fiction and fact
by Malcolm Matthews

Special to The St. Catharines Standard

Directed by Stephen S. Campanelli and based on the award-winning book by Richard Wagamese, "Indian Horse" tells the story of Saul Indian Horse and his attempts to survive the long-lasting horrors of one of Canada's church-based residential schools.

Filmed largely on location in Killarney, Ont., "Indian Horse" follows Saul as he grows up torn between the traditions of his Ojibwe grandmother and the desires of his converted Christian parents. Captured after his grandmother's death in 1959 and forced into a residential school, six-year-old Saul struggles to navigate the unspeakable acts of evil heaped upon the Indigenous children by white missionaries and sanctioned, historically, by the Canadian government.

As he grows up, Saul nurtures his gift for hockey and discovers escape on the ice and a mentor in Father Gaston (Michiel Huisman) who finds kind foster parents for Saul and a path toward success in the minor hockey leagues and eventually with the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 1980s.

In keeping with the film's focus on deceptions and surface appearances, however, what promises to be an inspirational success story about tenacity and talent takes a sharp U-turn. In an upside-down world where brainwashing masquerades as education, and where the church morphs from a supposed haven to a living hell, Saul's escape on the ice turns into just another prison of racism and mindless violence.

Like many stories of colonial oppression, Indian Horse focuses on the victims and on the shocking effects of racism perpetuated by whites upon non-white populations. We see the systematic suppression of native languages, one girl driven to suicide by the emotional abuse at the residential school, white men urinating on Saul's hockey teammates after a bloody bar fight, and the descent of Saul and his tormented childhood friend Lonnie into half-lived lives of alcoholism, poverty and psychological dissociation.

Campanelli disrupts this conventional linearity with multiple, overlapping voices in the opening, quick flashbacks in the middle, and ghost-like images from the past overlaid with the present that punctuate some of the film's final scenes.

Starring Sladen Peltier, Forrest Goodluck and Ajuwak Kapashesit as Saul — ages six, 15 and 22, respectively — and anchored by veteran character actor Martin Donovan, the acting isn't mind-blowing, but it doesn't need to be. The film itself is about acting and story-telling.

From the legend of Saul's great-grandfather introducing the first horse to the nation to the lies told by the Catholic church in the name of God to the many stories Saul represses and revises in order to survive, "Indian Horse" digs beneath the surface tales to unearth the shocking truth.

Ultimately a tale of resistance and the restoration of memory, the film ends with the testimonial voice-overs of survivors and an introduction: "My name is Saul Indian Horse, and this is my story."

That framing statement masks the truth that, while his name is indeed Indian Horse, this experience for so many was far more than a story; it was a reality. And not one that happened by accident, chance, or simple bad luck; this was a reality deliberately and maliciously perpetrated by white Canadians upon Indigenous populations. While it may be tempting to minimize or dismiss these events as "only a movie," this is a film about facts, which must never again be mistaken for fiction.