St. Jerome's Residential School

In Richard Wagamese's Indian Horse, the protagonist, Saul Indian Horse, is taken against his will to St. Jerome's residential school in White River Ontario. At the residential school, Saul faces many struggles and challenges that he tries to overcome using hockey as a way to escape these issues. However, the residential school left an everlasting impression on Saul that impacted his life throughout the story.

St. Jerome's residential school had many impacts on Saul both at the time and throughout his life. The discrimination and abuse Saul had faced in this residential school are very similar to what Indigenous children faced when they were forced to attend these residential schools but worse.

At St. Jerome's residential school, Saul and the other kids were forced to do chores, physical labor, learn English, and forget their past culture and ways of living. If Saul or any of the other kids were to speak Ojibwe, they were punished, beat, or worse. Not to mention these kids in the story were treated very poorly with minimal shower time, public embarrassment, poor or no meals, and lack of hygiene. Saul even talks about what happened to him at that residential school still haunts him today.

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St. Jerome's residential school in White River, Ontario
One example that Saul remembered that continues to haunt him. In chapter 39, before Saul goes to sleep, he remembers a girl from St.Jerome’s residential school named Rebecca. Rebecca and her sister came to the residential school together and her sister was very sensitive and homesick. Rebbeca's was wetting the bed often and getting lashed. One day she was sent to the Iron box which is this low ceiling dark room where she died. Rebecca her older sister found out and she was devastated. Saul then sees Rebecca standing in an open field one day singing an old Ojibwe song where Saul sees her stab herself. The rest of the children join together singing the same song. This was just one of the devastating events Saul witnessed at St.Jerome's residential school.

I think that the discrimination that Saul had to face at St. Jerome's was not right. Saul and the rest of the Indigenous kids attending the school were treated very poorly mainly because of their culture and skin colour. According to www.indigenousfoundations.arts.ubc.ca "The two primary objectives of the residential school system were to remove and isolate children from the influence of their homes, families, traditions, and cultures, and to assimilate them into the dominant culture."

These residential schools were not justified and personally, I think that residential school has to be apart of Canada's worst moments in history. These residential schools were very racist and abusive towards Indigenous children as more than 6000 children were to have died in these residential schools. I couldn't imagine being forced away from my family for years to live in an abusive school where I didn't understand the language. However, in Indian Horse, Saul already spoke fluent English which saved him some troubles.

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Mohawk Institute Residential School
Recently, our English class was given the opportunity to visit the Mohawk Institute Residential school in Brantford Ontario. While we were there, we were lucky to have a residential school survivor talk about he past struggles she faced which was difficult to hear. We also watched a video which took us on a virtual tour of the inside of the residential school. This video showed us all the rooms in the residential school and gave a description of what happened in the school. From this description, I couldn't image what it would be like to kids as young as five who were forced to attend these residential school.

Something that was assumed throughout the whole book by my group members was that Saul was raped in the residential school. Saul grew a very close connection to Father Leboutilier and near the end of the book on page 199, Saul admits that he was raped and forced to do things many times unwillingly.

One thing the author emphasized was that Saul was able to relieve all his problems with the help of hockey. When Saul played hockey at the residential school, he would forget about all the problems he had at the time and would find protection from the game. "When the racism of the crowds and players made me change, I became enraged because they were taking away the only protection I had" (Wagamese, 200). Saul used the game of hockey to protect himself from the outside world and it allowed him to run free and loose. When he played, he played "with abandon" (199).

I think it was very evident that Saul used the game of hockey to protect himself throughout most of the book, especially through his stay at St. Jerome's residential school. However, to many kids who were sent to residential schools in real-life, they didn't have anything to run to for protection. They were abandoned and abused with nothing to turn to. In the story, Saul's stay at the residential school didn't seem as bad compared to the other Indigenous kids. This leaves me to wonder how bad residential schools really were?

Works Cited

Hanson, Eric. “The Residential School System.” Indigenousfoundations, indigenousfoundations.arts.ubc.ca/the_residential_school_system/.

Indian Country Today. “6,000 Kids Died in Residential Schools:” IndianCountryToday.com, Indian Country Today, 2 June 2015, newsmaven.io/indiancountrytoday/archive/6-000-kids-died-in-residential-schools-G7hg1ruABE69s99UZxMiWA/.

Wagamese, Richard. Indian Horse: a Novel. Milkweed Editions, 2018.

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