Saturday, March 11, 2017

Richard Wagamese, author of Indian Horse, dead at 61

Award-winning author and journalist Richard Wagamese, an Ojibway from the Wabaseemoong First Nation in northwestern Ontario whose work was deeply influenced by Indigenous experiences in Canada's residential school system, has died.
Wagamese, 61, called himself a second-generation survivor of the government-sponsored schools, attended by his parents and extended family members.
In many of his 13 titles from major Canadian publishers, he drew from his own struggle with family dysfunction that he attributed to the isolating church-run schools.
One of his many novels, Indian Horse, was a finalist in CBC's Canada Reads in 2013, bringing it to wider attention. It also was shortlisted for the International Dublin Literary Award.
It tells the story of the intergenerational trauma that played out in the lives of those who attended residential schools in the 1960s and '70s. It's the story of Saul Indian Horse, a boy who finds release through his passion for hockey.

Two years after its release, in 2014, he spoke to Carol Off, host of CBC Radio's As It Happens, about the psychological impact of being separated from family and how the trauma is passed on to the next generation.
"The nature of their experience, their common experience in residential schools, really robbed them of their tribal and cultural ability to be nurturing and to be loving parents," Wagamese said.
"They had suffered the scrapes and woundings of their souls and their spirits that was not readily healable. And when we were born as children, we were subjected to the neglect and the pain that that generation had suffered, so intergenerationally, residential schools infiltrated my generation in my family, and that's true across the country."
The film Indian Horse, adapted from the book, is currently in production, directed by Dennis Foon (Life, Above All, Double Happiness).

Father-son themes

Wagamese's 2014 novel Medicine Walk also addresses efforts to preserve culture and heal a divided family — as a teenage son and dying father who barely know each other embark on a journey through the backcountry of the B.C. Interior so that the father can be buried according to Ojibway custom.
After its release, the author, who lived in Kamloops, B.C., spoke to friend and CBC host Shelagh Rogers about Medicine Walk on B.C.'s Gabriola Island, where she lives.

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