Turtle Island Reads: Heather White champions Richard Wagamese's Indian Horse

"When I finally opened the pages of Indian Horse, I went on an epic journey that helped me find my place in the world," recounts the teacher and actor of Mohawk and Stoney heritage who champions Richard Wagamese's novel at an event celebrating Indigenous Canadian writers.

'I went on an epic journey that helped me find my place in the world,' says Kahnawake teacher and actor

Heather White will discuss Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese (Douglas & McIntyre). (Red Works Photography)

On Wednesday, Sept. 21, CBC co-hosts Turtle Island Reads — a live public event at Kahnawake Survival School, highlighting stories written by and about Indigenous Canadians.

Drawing its inspiration from CBC's Canada Reads, it's an opportunity to talk about and celebrate Indigenous Canadian writers and connect readers with their stories.

Three advocates will each champion one book of fiction written by an Indigenous Canadian author and try to persuade you to make that book the next one on your reading list.

Here is how Heather White came to pick up Richard Wagamese's novel, Indian Horse.

Why did I choose to champion the Richard Wagamese's novel, Indian Horse? Because his story of residential school trauma and his use of storytelling as a path toward healing speak to me on a very personal level.  

As a second-generation survivor of the residential school system, I've often wondered what do with the legacy that I've inherited.

Yes, this history of educational failure and attempted cultural genocide happened to our people, but – what next? How do we move forward? And how can I make sense of what happened to my own dad, a pillar of strength in my life despite his experiences.  

Stories have always mattered to me, but ironically, I resisted the story of Indian Horse for a long time.

Many people recommended the book, but I refused to believe that yet another recounting of suffering in residential schools could ever make me feel better about the injustices perpetrated against our children – or help me understand my part in this legacy.

Finding strength, healing

It wasn't until I encountered Richard Wagamese in person that my response to his book changed.  

He was the keynote speaker at Toronto's For The Love Of Reading conference, and as I listened to his story of suffering and strength, I laughed and cried and knew it was finally time.

And when I finally opened the pages of Indian Horse, I went on an epic journey that helped me find my place in the world just as Saul was rediscovering his.

Saul Indian Horse pours his story into his journal, trying to put together the pieces of a seemingly broken life.

I saw that it is in the assembly of these pieces that we find healing.

Survivors who've told their story, like my dad, have found resilience.  So, as a survivor, reader, artist and educator, I am honoured and excited to continue this process through Turtle Island Reads.

I believe it is through the sharing of the stories that we will find strength, healing – and our vision of our shared future.

Richard Wagamese's novel Indian Horse was a finalist in Canada Reads 2013 and was voted the People Choice's winner. (submitted by Richard Wagamese)
Turtle Island Reads takes place at the Kahnawake Survival School on Wednesday, Sept. 21 at 7 p.m.

Co-hosted by CBC's Sonali Karnick and Waubkeshig Rice, the event is a CBC collaboration with community leaders on the Kahnawake Mohawk territory, the Quebec Writers' Federation and McGill University's Institute for the Public Life of Arts and Ideas.

Let us know you're coming by visiting our CBC Montreal Facebook Events page