Richard Wagamese died suddenly and unexpectedly at the age of sixty one, thrusting both the man and his writing back into the literary limelight. Best known for his novel Indian Horse, Wagamese, an Ojibwe from the Wabaseemoong Independent Nations in north-western Ontario, wrote prolifically about the subjects that affected Aboriginal peoples, specifically, the psychological impact that mandatory residential schools had on those who experienced them, as well as the impact on the families they were taken away from. He also deals frequently with racism against indigenous people, but not in a negative, rabble-rousing kind of way; rather, his books present indigenous and non-indigenous characters who are closely bonded, always friends and living in symbiosis with each other. This provides a feeling of great hope in all of his writing.
The Medicine Walk is set in British Columbia and tells the story of Franklin Starlight, an indigenous boy whose father handed him over to a non-indigenous man to raise at a very young age. The old man becomes his substitute family and begins to instill in Franklin a great love and respect for the land. During Franklin's teen years, his relationship with his father, Eldon, becomes worse and they become estranged as Eldon continues to give in to his alcoholism. Thenovel touches on this subject, and also the complications of a father and son relationship, as well as the importance of family and forgiveness.
The book is really a collection of stories within a larger story, and this theme of storytelling is another that Wagamese returns to in all of his books and short stories. Each step of Eldon and Franklin's lives is interspersed with traditional stories and powerful, magical legends passed down through the generations. Both characters are flawed, but they are also both very human, and this makes them endearing to readers. The most powerful character in the novel is the land itself; it is clear that the author has a strong connection to the land and describes this through the eyes of his protagonist. As with all Wagamese works, the ending of the story is not all sunshine and roses, and the loose ends of the story are like the loose ends of life; they do not all tie up neatly in a happily-ever-after bow. However, despite this, the book is hopeful and gives the reader the feeling that the characters will all eventually find their way.
Wagamese's work has been much awarded; Medicine Walk received the 2015 Banff Mountain Book Festival Grand Award, and also that same year he received the Writers' Trust of Canada's Matt Cohen Award for his overall body of work. His final novel, Starlight, was published posthumously in 2018.