Indian Horse


Richard Wagamese

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Themes and Colors
Family and Tradition Theme Icon
Cultural Genocide Theme Icon
Abuse and Trauma Theme Icon
Racism and Prejudice Theme Icon
Transcendence Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Indian Horse, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Richard Wagamese’s Indian Horse takes its title from the protagonist Saul Indian Horse’s family name, so it’s no surprise that family (and the traditions that families preserve) is one of the book’s central themes. Saul Indian Horse is a member of the Fish Clan, an Indigenous Canadian tribe that lives near the Winnipeg River. Saul’s family has always been influential in the Fish Clan. Saul’s great-grandfather, Slanting Sky, was a shaman—an important healer…

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In 1994, the United Nations defined cultural genocide as “Any action which has the aim or effect of depriving [an ethnic group] of their integrity as distinct peoples, or of their cultural values or ethnic identities.” By this definition, 20th century Canadian laws and government policies qualify as one of the most flagrant and destructive cultural genocides of modern times. For more than a century, the Canadian government officially required all Indigenous Canadian children to…

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Toward the end of Indian Horse, Saul Indian Horse remembers some information that he’s been repressing for many years. As a child, his beloved mentor at St. Jerome’s, Father Gaston Leboutilier, sexually abused him. Saul’s shocking realization cements trauma as one of the key themes of the book. Wagamese shows how trauma, particularly when it’s caused by abuse, as it is in Saul’s case, can be a crippling burden for its victims.


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In Indian Horse, Saul Indian Horse experiences many different forms and degrees of racial prejudice. There’s the racism implicit in his being kidnapped, sent to St. Jerome’s, and forbidden from speaking his own native tongue—i.e., the suggestion that his entire society is inferior to white Canadian society. Then there’s the condescending racism of sports journalists who call him a “crazy redskin” and other belittling terms, even when they’re praising his prowess. Saul experiences a…

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In Indian Horse, Saul Indian Horse experiences countless tragedies and setbacks. But there are also many scenes—usually intense, lyrically written, and very brief—during which he seems to escape tragedy momentarily. One might use the word transcendence to describe the experience of escaping tragic or traumatic circumstances, especially when the experience takes on a mystical or religious form. It’s impossible to understand Saul fully without understanding the role transcendence plays in his life.

For Saul…

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