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 huge amount of direct, verbal racism from white peers and sports opponents, who never miss an opportunity to call him names. And finally, he experiences his share of direct violence from racist whites who try to beat him into submission. All these behaviors stem from the fact that Saul is an Indigenous Canadian living in a country run by white people, many of whom believe that Saul is inherently inferior because of his race.
This racism seems to spring from an irrational need on the part of white Canadians to prove that Indigenous Canadians are inferior to them. During Saul’s time at St. Jerome’s Christian school, he’s beaten and abused by the racist white teachers. These teachers regularly tell Saul and his classmates that their indigenous culture is inferior to white Canadian culture. Of course, the indigenous students are not, in fact, inferior to whites, and so the teachers use violence to force them into submission. In a similar sense, most of the white Canadians who hit and bully Saul are motivated by their own failures. Saul is a talented hockey player who regularly defeats his bigger, more privileged white opponents. After particularly humiliating defeats, white hockey players or racist townspeople take out their anger on Saul and his Indigenous Canadian teammates. In other words, Saul is evidently better than they are at hockey, which is an important sport in Canada, and a traditionally European sport, which makes Saul’s success even more humiliating for them. As a result, Saul’s white opponents try to compensate by asserting their power in other ways.
The cumulative effect of years of racism and prejudice on Saul is almost incalculable. But it’s clear that racism ruins some of his potential in life by leaving him angry and frustrated. For a time, Saul is able to ignore the racism of his teachers and hockey opponents. But eventually, their cruelty proves too overwhelming for him, and he gives in to the (very understandable) temptation to fight back. The result is that Saul grows into an aggressive and embittered man—so much so that he’s kicked out of the NHL in spite of his enormous talent as a hockey player. The central tragedy of the book is that racism, in all its forms and degrees, crushes Saul’s spirit and turns what could have been a brilliant athletic career into years of fighting, soul-searching, and drinking.
Racism and Prejudice ThemeTracker
Racism and Prejudice Quotes in Indian Horse
"Do they hate me?"
"They don't hate you, Saul." 'Well, what, then?"
"They think it's their game."
I looked around at all those adult faces, lingering on Father Leboutilier's. I'd never been offered choice before.
'All right," I said. "I'll go."
There were moments when you'd catch another boy's eye and know that you were both thinking about it. Everything was contained in that glance.
All the hurt. All the shame. All the rage. The white people thought it was their game. They thought it was their world.
The press would not let me be. When I hit someone, it wasn't just a bodycheck; I was counting coup.
When I made a dash down the ice and brought the crowd to their feet, I was on a raid. If I inadvertently high-sticked someone during a tussle in the corner, I was taking scalps. When I did not react to getting a penalty, I was the stoic Indian.
When I hit the ice I was effective. I scored twenty-three points in nine games. But the taunting from the stands continued, and I fumed and smoldered and racked up one hundred and twenty minutes in the penalty box. I caused the Marlies to play short-handed a lot of the time, and we lost seven of those games. Finally, they benched me completely. After one night of sitting in the stands, I packed my bag and got on a bus back to Manitouwadge.
I punched him in the head with everything I had, and he crumpled onto the floorboards. I turned to face the rest of them. I was frigid blackness inside, like water under a berg. I wanted another one to stand, wanted another one to swing at me, invite me to erupt. But they stayed seated, and nobody spoke as I walked slowly over to the table and picked up Jorgenson's discarded hand of cards. I studied the cards, then smirked and tossed the hand back on the table.
"Game over," I said. They never bothered me again.