Richard Wagamese was a First Nations writer whose posts often appeared on my Facebook feed. I had never read any of his books. He’d post about his spiritual search (and findings), his happiness with and love for his spouse, the joy he found in life, the struggles he had faced and come through, how fortunate he felt.
Once he didn’t post for a long time and when he did, he said he’d fallen “off the wagon” or something like that, but was getting back up. Not long after, the news came that he’d died. The news stories never stated how, so I thought perhaps suicide.
Were all his life-affirming, inspirational posts misleading, then? Were they like promises he’d been unable to keep? If someone with his professional success and apparent wisdom cannot overcome his demons — alcoholism, the pain, loss and sorrow of First Nations people due to their past and the horrid conditions of their present — then what hope is there for any of us?
I began reading his novel Indian Horse. The descriptions of the theft/kidnapping of Indigenous children by white, colonial government brought home to me yet again the horror of our shared history. The book is a fiction, but I’ve no doubt the treatment of the children in the book was based on actual stories Wagamese heard from people he knew, or Wagamese himself may have been a residential school survivor who both witnessed and experienced similar abuse.
It not only broke my heart; it made me angry. It reminded me to appreciate my own good fortune in never being torn from my family or beaten or belittled. Maybe those of us who have never had these experiences can’t really understand the generational fallout from them. It’s all the more reason why we need to set our prejudiced assumptions aside and listen respectfully.