Youtube clip – Richard Wagamese speaking at UBC:


Richard Wagamese: Shebandowan

When I was a younger man, my idea of Canada was different than it is now.  In fact, as I grew the image of the country altered too, just as it has for generations of youth both First Nations and not.  We have that in common. We mature and our sensibilities and what we learn to see become more focused and sharper. Or it doesn’t.
As a small boy Canada was a muddle.  I lived in a foster home on Tenth St. North in the rideout area of Kenora.  There were not a lot of Ojibwa kids in my school and I played with kids named Loranger, Zuleski, Waters, Campbell and Parks.  I was left behind on family vacations, and shunted to the side at celebrations. Home had no real reference point for me and I thought Canada was where the white people lived.
In the home I was adopted into at age nine, Canada became a huge city on the skyline.  It became endless, fast lines of automobiles. It became noise; of factories, manufacturing and construction at the same time that it became the hurry-scurry of people on sidewalks barely noticing each other or their varied colors.  Home still had no real reference point and I thought Canada was where anybody other than the Indians lived.
On the streets I drifted to at 16 Canada became a desperate venture into finding jobs, shelter and a sense of purpose.  It became the place where labels were attached. Labels that I didn’t understand or felt that I deserved. I was a lazy, drunken, shiftless bum with unmotivated, unskilled, uneducated and untrained thrown in for good measure.  I thought Canada was where the fortunate people lived. Then, when i hit the road as a hitchhiker Canada became a stunning array of awe inspiring vistas, landscapes culled from the whimsy of an articulate God and the poignant heartache and yearning of peoples coaxed from their homelands to start again here.  I identified greatly with that. In my late teens and early twenties I felt like an immigrant myself, searching for a new shore to start a better story. But there’s a place in northern Ontario called Shebandowan. It’s a tiny little railroad town and in the mid-70s there wasn’t a lot going on. Just a small store that doubled as a post office, a hotel where the miners and the railroad workers drank and a few houses scattered about willy-nilly.  The highway ran through it though I doubt if many travelers ever really saw it.
Back then I was always on my way to somewhere else and I stopped to work in Shebandowan for a while.  The CNR hired me out of Thunder Bay to be a line labourer responsible for levelling track, clearing switches and basically ensuring that the trains could always make it through.  I got to know the land pretty well because I’d take long walks for something to do when I wasn’t working. It was one of those places that’s really only a stopover.
My only breaks came when we’d go to Thunder Bay every three weeks to load up on groceries.  There I’d get my fill of movies and restaurant food, buy new books and music and then head back to work, set to earn enough money to get out of there.  It was a funny little place. It had an Ojibwa name but there weren’t any Ojibwa around except for me. Sure, every weekend Indian kids would come in from Atikokan or Kaministiquia or Kekabeka Falls but they were there and gone again come Monday morning.
I’d sit in the tavern and watch them interact with the miners and the other working men who filled the old hotel.  The tavern was nothing more than a wooden bar, a dozen tables, a shuffleboard, a pool table and a big TV for hockey games on Saturday nights.  Those kinds of places are everywhere across Canada and this one was typical. The miners would let the Ojibwa kids win at pool so they could get them drunk and laugh.  Every now and then a fight would break out and the place would be mayhem.
For me it was difficult.  I hadn’t really connected with my own people yet and to see this display of subtle racism over and over again made me feel strange and odd as though there were something I should do but I didn’t know what or how.  It was the mid-70s and Canada was a different place.
At 55, I’ve grown to be comfortable in my own  skin and the pride I feel as an Ojibwa man doesn’t allow me to condone racism whether it’s subtle or not.  Shebandowan and the early years of my life taught me there were differences — age has taught me to celebrate them.
Now that you have some background on the author, read the quote below that is from the first chapter of Indian Horse and answer the following question:
“They say I can’t understand where I’m going if I don’t understand where I’ve been” (Wagamese 2).

  1. What does this quote mean?  Think of an example from your life where this quote could be significant.
  1. What passages/sections stood out to you?  Why?

What do you think when you see the word “identity”.  What do you know about this term?

What do you think of the term “residential”?  What do think it would be like to live at a school? How would you feel if you lived at PW Mini for your high school education?  Your parents?

So far, what’s the mood/atmosphere of the novel?  What kinds of things do you think shaped Indigenous students’ identities?

What makes you a Canadian? What makes you culturally or socially Canadian?

Do these examples conform to the traditional Canadian stereotype?

“What makes the Red Man Red” video. What are the negative consequences of the stereotypes portrayed here?

Reflect on European Artwork depicting Indigenous Peoples.  First impressions?

Reflect on Noble Savage, White Man’s burden…

Artifact – cultural heritage symbol.  Consider how the artifact is significant to cultural heritage and identity? Reflection first… then in depth analysis.

To page 42.  Where do we find the theme of identity in the novel so far?  Provide a significant quotations.  One important question so far.

Would you rather buy an old heritage home or a brand new house?  Why?  Connect to topic of tradition vs. change.  Why are old houses sometimes more appealing even though they might have maintenance or structural issues?  Why are newer houses more appealing in some cases?

Can you connect this idea with what we have studied so far in the novel?

Saul’s family transition from a loving family to people Saul is afraid of (p. 30) and “seemed like strangers” (p.33).  What have these spiritual differences caused physically and emotionally?

What are your impressions of Saul’s grandmother? What is her role in Saul’s life? Despite her resourceful nature and sense of spirituality, she still succumbs to the cold and hostile environment.  What does her death represent?

What makes an image stand out and create an emotional response? Positive or negative. Connect imagery to identity. Find an image that stands out for you in the novel so far.

Identity and Spirituality and Physical self…. school’s ability to break things. What’s being broken?  Examine Sheila’s transformation (p. 51). Topic of escape….

What are the qualities of a good role model? What makes the priest a good role model?

In the past 6 chapters Saul has undergone many changes in environment and community.  How has hockey affected Saul?

Consider how Saul is following the Hero’s Journey archetype?