The narrator introduces himself as Saul Indian Horse. He’s a descendant of the Fish Clan, a tribe of Indigenous people from northern Ojibway, a region of North America. The Fish Clan lives near the Winnipeg River in Canada. For centuries, they’ve lived in places that the white man, or “Zhaunagush,” doesn’t go. The people of the Fish Clan have long, straight hair and deep brown eyes. Their legends describe how they emerged from Mother Earth’s womb. When Saul was still a child, the Fish Clan still talked in terms of legends like this. Nowadays, however, they don’t.
Saul Indian Horse, the protagonist and narrator of the book, is a member of an Indigenous Canadian tribe. He emphasizes his pride in his people, but he suggests that the Fish Clan aren’t what they used to be. During Saul’s lifetime, the Canadian government’s systematic mistreatment of tribes like the Fish Clan has led to the deterioration of their once rich and vibrant culture. This is the tragedy to which Saul subtly alludes in this passage.
Saul admits that he’s a “hardcore drunk.” He lives in the New Dawn Center, a treatment facility run by other members of the Fish Clan. Saul dislikes the communal nature of the center, describing how the patients are always being made to sit in a circle and talk about their feelings. These patients are of many different ages, and Saul doesn’t like listening to their life stories. In private, Saul talks to his personal counselor, Moses. He’s been sober for more than two months—the longest he’s been sober in years.
Like a disproportionately large number of Indigenous Canadians, Saul struggles with alcoholism. His time in the treatment center gives him an opportunity to reflect on his life, which sets the stage for the story Saul is about to tell. Although this passage makes it clear that Saul feels like an outsider at the treatment center, he hasn’t yet made it clear why that is.
Saul refuses to tell his life story when he’s sitting in a circle with his fellow patients, feeling that it is too complicated. So instead, he’ll write down his story—and as soon as he’s done, he’ll “get on with life.” The Fish Clan, he claims, would consider him a seer: he has been “lifted” out of the physical world, an experience which allowed him to glimpse the true nature of things. And yet Saul hasn’t had such an experience for a long, long time. Sometimes, he writes, “it feels as though I have spent my entire life on a trek to rediscover it.”
Saul laments his lost ability to “see” in a mystical, supernatural way, echoing his earlier lamentation of the lost glories of his tribe and their miserable present state. In this way, Wagamese connects Saul’s personal experiences with the overall experience of the Indigenous Canadian population during the 20th century.