Place, displacement, and replacement in Richard Wagamese’s Indian Horse
In the statements they made before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (2008-2015), many survivors insisted on the fact that the greatest trauma left by the experience of residential schools consisted in being forcibly removed from their families, communities and homelands, and relocated to an alien and often hostile environment, sometimes hundreds of miles away from their native communities.
In Indian Horse, a novel published in 2012 by the Anishinaabe novelist Richard Wagamese, the young hero, Saul Indian Horse, is estranged from lake Manitou Gameeng — the central place and spiritual home where his tribal identity stems from. He is subsequently taken to St Jerome’s Catholic Indian residential school, where the priests and nuns try to deprive him of his Indianness. After leaving the school, and failing to become a renowned hockey player, his downfall takes him back to two founding places: the lake, where he is able to reconnect with his people’s stories and history; and what is left of St. Jerome’s Indian school, where the repressed memory of his rape by one of the priests resurfaces.
In this presentation, I will focus on Saul’s wanderings, meanderings and alienations in order to show how Wagamese manages to reassert the value and significance of what the Lakota scholar Vine Deloria Jr. calls “the sacred center”, the place where Indian people are able to relate historical and biographical events within the confines of the land where their identity resides.
By doing so, I will endeavour to show that Indian Horse is a narrative in which history and geography are interconnected — a story in which storytelling depends on the teller’s ability to restore the severed link between the land and the self.
I work as a teaching fellow at the University of Pau, France, where I have been teaching translation and North American studies for 14 years. I am currently completing a Ph.D. on Indian residential school narratives in Canada (University of Toulouse). My most recent publications include a chapter on the French translation of Tomson Highway’s Kiss of the Fur Queen (in Hybrid Englishes and the Challenges of and for Translation: Identity, Mobility and Language Change, Routledge, 2019), a paper on memory loss and recovery in Wagamese’s Indian Horse (in Actio Nova, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, 2019), a paper on the restoration of traditional knowledge and ways in aboriginal education in Canada (Annuaire de Justice Transitionnelle 2020, IFJD, 2020), and a chapter on truth and reconciliation in Indian Horse and Kiss of the Fur Queen published in a book I coedited (Les pratiques de vérité et de reconciliation dans les sociétés émergeant de situations violentes ou conflcituelles, IFJD, 2020).
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