Indian Horse

Indian Horse Summary and Analysis of Chapters 26-35


Now an official part of the Moose, Saul travels with them from game to game in a cramped bus. Unlike white hockey, the Native league is scrappy and self-funded. They lodge five or six at a time in cramped houses, skating on outdoor rinks while fans stand on the sidelines. Despite their hardships, the teams are always welcomed as part of the community, and the teams treat each other with respect even when the game briefly slips into a fight. Although the tiny Saul is usually the target of teasing when he first arrives, the laughter stops when he joins the game at a crucial moment.

The informal league is structured around weekly tournaments, held in the home towns of different teams. They last for one weekend, ending early enough for everyone to get home in time for work on Monday. Saul begins to consider himself a traveler, moving through the world with his band of brothers. At home with the Kellys, he’s comfortable and happy to experience kindness and gratitude after the horrors of St. Jerome’s. He becomes especially close with Virgil, who practices with him and, with Fred, pushes him to get stronger and play against three other players. With Saul’s help, the Moose begin to dominate the tournaments. One day, Father Leboutilier watches a game. Afterward, he tells Saul how proud he is and says goodbye. Saul never sees him again.

In February, a group of white men arrive at a tournament. They’re representatives of the Kapuskasing team, last year’s league champions. Having heard about the Moose’s reputation, they want to challenge them to a game. Saul is reluctant, but Virgil is excited about the challenge, and the other players agree, happy to play in a nicer stadium. Reluctantly, Saul acquiesces. In preparation for the game, practices become more focused, the team silent and serious on the ice.

When game day finally arrives, and they make it to the Kapuskasing arena, the team is immediately impressed by the brand-new arena full of shining trophies. After Virgil pushes them past the displays and into the locker room, someone knocks at the door and asks for a lineup card, a list of the players on the team. The Moose doesn’t have one, so Virgil has to write it up. When he hands it over, the man laughs at their Indian sounding names. The jeers at their names continue when they make it to the ice, but Saul is focused on the Chiefs, who play better than anyone he’s ever seen. At first, the Moose are heavily outmatched. When Saul enters the game, they trail 5-0. But Saul is in his element, and quickly scores.

The whole team is terrified of losing—they know how important this game is. Saul barely leaves the ice, and manages to tie up the game, taking advantage of the open spaces created by the Chiefs' defensive focus on him alone. In the last five minutes, he makes an incredible assist, and Stu Little Chief scores, winning the game. When Saul leaves the ice, he discovers he has been awarded the first star, marking him as the most important player of the game. He returns to the ice to the sound of applause.

After the Moose's victory, white teams keep asking to play the Moose, and they keep agreeing. Every week they play in another town, and Saul realizes that he prefers the warmth of homes and the unpredictability of outdoor rinks to hotels and stadiums. The white teams are hostile, especially to Saul, and many of the games devolve into fighting as his team tries to defend him. As they enter northern Ontario, the racism gets more intense—Indigenous people are hated. After a victory, the team decides to treat themselves to a meal out. Halfway through, a group of eight white men enter the dining room and tell the team they don’t have the right to eat like white people. Then they drag each member of the team out back and beat them, sparing Saul because of his youth. Back on the bus, Virgil tells Saul that after punching and kicking them to the ground, the men pissed on them.

Still reeling from the assault, the Moose are invited to a tournament in Espanola with the best teams in the region. The first game, against the Nuggets, is easily won once Saul joins the field and realizes their tight strategy is disrupted by speed. But the next, against the Clippers, the larger players begin to target Saul while the crowd shouts racist taunts, accusing him of cowardice for choosing not to fight back. The Moose lose, and even his own teammates resent his pacifism. After that, every team uses the same violent strategy, daring Saul to fight back. Finally, in one decisive game, he thinks over the issue and commits to stop refusing, remembering the essence of the game he fell in love with. He returns to the ice inspired, and outplays them all.

The Moose win that tournament, and for the first time their success appears in print. Soon after, a tall white guy who dresses like he’s from outside Northern Canada starts to appear at their tournaments. Everyone on the team suspects he’s a scout come for Saul, but Saul doubts them. Finally, he has a conversation with Virgil. When he leaves, Virgil tells Saul that the man is indeed an NHL scout, by the name of Jack Lanaham, and that he wants to talk to him. When they meet, Saul is suspicious throughout the conversation, wary of white players and white stadiums, but Jack makes his own love of the game clear.

For three weeks, Saul tries to pretend the conversation with Jack never happened, while the rest of the Moose wait, expectant. Then one day, Virgil pulls him aside along with Ernie Jack, Louise Green, and Little Chief. One by one, they all try to convince him, stressing that this is the kind of opportunity they all live their lives waiting for. Little Chief adds that if he finds Saul in fifteen years, still stuck in a small Northern town skating on a lake, he’s going to beat him right there on the ice. Finally, Virgil joins the conversation, and tells Saul that he owes it to him for letting him join the Moose. He reassures Saul that he’s good enough, but that he’s the one who needs to believe that.


Saul's world transforms when he arrives at Manitouwadge. The Kellys offer him a home—not just a place to live, but support, kindness, and family. The other players on the Moose accept him quickly, and once they do, he becomes a part of both their small community, and the broader network of players who all treat each other as brothers.

The Indigenous community that Saul finds in Manitouwadge is literally fenced in by colonialism. They live on the edge of a reservation, encircled by borders drawn by the settler-colonial power. The men work in low-paying, physically demanding jobs like mining, instead of living through hunting, fishing, and farming. Yet within these boundaries set by white settlers, Ojibway tradition, culture, and values are essential to Saul's life at Manitouwadge. His journeys to tournaments with the Moose, through beautiful natural landscapes, parallel his journey with Naomi to Gods Lake. While St. Jerome’s cast Native people as different, and Ojibway language, traditions, and identity as the site of that difference, the people of Manitouwadge claim their culture without ever “[giving] a thought to being Indian. Different.” Despite the continued political and economic power of the settler state, Saul's life at Manitouwadge is proof that the Ojibway people have persisted.

Nevertheless, Saul cannot simply leave his past at St. Jerome’s behind. He wakes up early “like [he] did at St. Jerome’s,” works hard at household chores because of how the school trained him, and struggles to accept thanks for his work. By depicting Saul as conceptualizing his present through his past, Wagamese emphasizes the continuing influence trauma has on the way Saul exists in the world. Simultaneously, racism is a fact of Saul’s present. When the Moose begin to play against white teams, his own experiences at St. Jerome’s tell him about the damage this will do to their community of players, something his other teammates are loathe to believe. The reality of racism in the present is part of what makes leaving the past behind so difficult for Saul, because the ideology of St. Jerome’s continues to inform his present.

That knowledge isn’t something his teammates, who never went to a residential school, can avoid forever. Like the reservation within white territory, their team is bounded on all sides by a racist world. When they venture outside of the Native league and its tournaments, they are exposed to escalating degrees of violence, culminating with the assault on the Moose at the diner. This incident parallels prominent aspects of American Jim Crow, in which African Americans were barred from eating at white diners, and met with violence when they refused. By describing a similar incident, Wagamese suggests a connection between two different systems of racial marginalization. When the white men urinate on the Moose, they engage in an act of violence aimed not just at humiliating their victims, but at asserting ownership over their bodies. It is an act of violence that shares the logic of sexual assault—the violence that Saul survives at St. Jerome’s.

For Saul and the other players on the Moose, there’s a horrible paradox to the presence of racism in hockey. On the one hand, hockey is liberation. Virgil describes Saul as a shape-shifter, emphasizing not just the resonance between the game and Ojibway ways of seeing the world, but the way skill at the sport is a form of radical control, on Indigenous terms, of a body that the white settlers constantly try to police and control. At the same time, racist fans, announcers, referees, and players all use their power to regulate and physically abuse Indigenous players, infringing on that control. When Saul is recruited to a white team, he is offered freedom from the economic constraints that settler capitalism imposes on his brothers, but it also exposes him to intensified racism that tries to regulate or erase him through verbal and physical violence.