Film shows escaping the trauma of residential school through sports

A drama tackling one of the most sensitive subjects of trauma for many indigenous residential school survivors and families is found in the film adaptation of Richard Wagamese’s compelling novel ‘Indian Horse’ — set to hit theatres on April 14.

Artist Logan Staats attended the premiere screening of the film in Ottawa last week, and said that the film and its contents brought him to realize the true impact of residential schools.

“It was one of those movies where I had to close my eyes for certain parts. It brought me back in time and was very emotional to me — I cried,” said Staats. “I was so proud of everyone involved and I think it’s gonna be a real eye-opener for anyone who sees it.”

The film was released for rating last September and was directed by Stephen Capanelli and executively produced by Clint Eastwood. It follows the life of Saul Indian Horse during the 1950’s, who is a young Ojibway boy committed to a notorious Catholic residential school.

Despite living in the oppressive and abusive environment, witnessing the abuses of the other children in the care of the people entrusted with his own welfare, the young Ojibway finds an escape in hockey. The sport is said to have been originally influenced by the Mi’kmaaq in Nova Scotia after Europeans witnessed their form of ice hockey — while Saul taught himself how to skate and play the game in secret.

He soon developed a rare skill and his talent led him away from the sorrow of the school to a native-run Northern Ontario hockey league and eventually pro. The film also encapsulates his healing with the haunting ghosts and memories of his past, and the journey he takes to get there.

However, not only has the film offered a platform for more compassion and understanding, it has also given opportunities to it’s cast for the portrayal of the story.

The role of Young Saul is played by an 11 year-old Sladen Peltier, who was nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the 6th Canadian Screen Awards for this year. Peltier is an Ojibway actor from Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve on Manitoulin Island and currently resides in Ottawa, Ontario. And just like many other indigenous youth, Peltier has been playing hockey since he was three years old and represents his nation at Little NHL every March. He earned his role in the film after responding to a casting announcement looking for First Nations children that could skate.

The film earned a Rotten Tomatoes score of 83%, and a Google Users score of 97%. But this survivors tale truly foregrounds the unshakeable spirit of indigenous people in the face of aggressive assimilation and cultural genocide through polices clouded in racism. The story of Indian Horse is one that can be a tool to help create and further the understanding needed to fuel compassion, and in the process become an irreversible influence upon those that view it.

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