LOCATION: Pinantan Lake, B.C.

While primarily residing at Pinantan Lake near Kamloops, Richard Wagamese transplanted himself to British Columbia where his literary career gained national prominence. He received the George Ryga Prize for Social Awareness in 2011 for One Story, One Dream. In 2012 he was chosen as a recipient of a National Aboriginal Achievement Award (NAAA) for Media & Communications. In 2013 he became the first recipient of the Burt Award for First Nations, Métis and Inuit Literature First Prize for Indian Horse as well as the 2013 recipient of the Canada Council on the Arts Molson Prize. Having moved to live in Kamloops, he received the Writers' Trust Matt Cohen Award: In celebration of a writing life for a body of work in 2016.

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An Ojibway from the Wabasseemoong First Nation in northwestern Ontario, Richard Wagamese was born in Minaki, Ontario, on October 14, 1955 and grew up in fifteen foster homes. According to Wikipedia, "He and his three siblings, abandoned by adults on a binge drinking trip in Kenora, left the bush camp when they had run out of food and sheltered at a railroad depot." He was re-united with birth family members in his early twenties. As a self-described "second-generation survivor of the residential school system" that had adversely affected the lives of his parents and other family members, Wagamese partially overcame alcoholism and PTSD to attain national acclaim.

Also known as Richard Gilkinson, Wagamese had "a criminal history with more than 50 convictions dating back to the 1970s," including numerous alcohol-related driving convictions, according to the Kamloops News. But he persevered and gained widespread acceptance, forming a 25-year friendship with Shelagh Rogers, host of CBC's The Next Chapter, and earning several prestigious awards. With thirteen books under his belt, he was nominated for the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize one week prior to his death in Kamloops on March 10, 2017.

A memorial gathering was held at Thompson Rivers University on March 25, 2017. The cause of death was not divulged.

Wagamese began his writing career as a journalist was with the First Nations publication New Breed, then becoming a "native-affairs" columnist at the Calgary Herald where he became the first indigenous journalist to win a National Newspaper Award in 1991. Wagamese's first novel, Keeper 'n' Me, tied for the Writers' Guild of Alberta fiction award in 1995. Then he won the 2007 Canadian Authors Association MOSAID Technologies Inc. Award for Fiction for his novel Dream Wheels.

In his non-fiction collection One Story, One Song, characters gain wisdom from wolf tracks, light a fire without matches, and learn about Martin Luther King from a grade five teacher.

One Native Life is his memoir of playing baseball, running away with the circus, attending a sacred bundle ceremony, meeting Pierre Trudeau, alcoholism, drifting from town to town, and being abused and abandoned as a child. It is an anger-free exercise in coming to terms with himself within the larger construct of Canada.

His third novel Dream Wheels is about the healing relationships between a former world champion Ojibway-Sioux rodeo cowboy who is crippled by a bull and a black single mother with a 14-year-old son named Aiden. His other books are two novels -- Keeper 'n Me and A Quality of Light--and an autobiography, For Joshua.

In 2008, Wagamese wrote Ragged Company, the story of four chronically homeless people who, seeking refuge in a movie theatre from severely cold Arctic weather, discover a winning lottery ticket worth millions of dollars.

Indian Horse (D&M 2012) by Richard Wagamese was selected as a finalist for the 2013 CBC Canada Reads competition and won the First Nations Communities Reads Awards, as well as being short-listed for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. Casting for a movie production was commenced by Screen Siren Pictures of Vancouver, makers of Hector and the Search for Happiness, with shooting slated for Sudbury, Ontario, Oka and Kamloops in the fall of 2016.

According to publicity materials, "a character named Saul Indian Horse has hit bottom. His last binge almost killed him, and now he's a reluctant resident in a treatment centre for alcoholics, surrounded by people he's sure will never understand him. But Saul wants peace, and he grudgingly comes to see that he'll find it only through telling his story. With him, readers embark on a journey back through the life he's led as a northern Ojibway, with all its joys and sorrows... For Saul, taken forcibly from the land and his family when he's sent to residential school, salvation comes for a while through his incredible gifts as a hockey player. But in the harsh realities of 1960s Canada, he battles obdurate racism and the spirit-destroying effects of cultural alienation and displacement."

In Medicine Walk (2014), we meet 16-year-old Franklin Starlight as he saddles up to ride into town, feeling compelled to rescue his dissolute father, Eldon, someone he doesn't even know very well. Eldon is a drunk, dying of liver cancer in a flophouse. Frank dutifully accedes to his father's request to be taken into the mountains, into the woods, so he can be buried in a traditional Ojibway way. As they ride into the backcountry, Eldon's past comes to light: his poverty-stricken childhood, serving in the Korean War. Frank finally gets to know the father he seldom had.

Richard Wagamese's Embers: One Ojibway's Meditations (D&M) reached the top of the BC Bestsellers List in March of 2017 soon after his death. It's a collection of everyday reflections on activities such sawing and cutting and stacking wood for winter and the indigenous smudge ceremony to bring him closer to the Creator. Without attempts to attain the role of teacher, his meditations as a self-described "spiritual bad-ass" explore grief, joy, recovery, beauty, gratitude, physicality and spirituality. For this book, largely derived from Facebook postings that were revised and expanded, Wagamese was the posthumous co-recipient of the Bill Duthie Booksellers Choice Award accepted by his publisher, Howard White, at the B.C. Book Prizes gala in April, 2017.

But literary success did not vanquish his demons. "Alcohol could numb me to all the things that arose in me," he told Provincial Court Judge Stella Frame in 2011."When they arose, I just drank more and more." Wagamese was facing jail time for three offences of drunking driving, having been found driving drunk three different times in as many weeks. His blood-alcohol levels following the arrests were between 0.223 and 0.315, ? above the legal limit of 0.08. Judge Frame gave him an 18-month provisional sentence and a ten-year driving ban.

Richard Wagamese was honored with Honorary Doctor of Letters degrees from Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops in 2010, and from Lakehead University in Thunder Bay in 2014. He was the 2011 Harvey Stevenson Southam Guest Lecturer in Writing at the University of Victoria. Wagamese was predeceased by his father, mother Marjorie, brother Jack, sister Jane, niece Jackie, as well as his spiritual father Jack Kakakaway who gave him the name Mushkotay Beezheekee Anakwat - Buffalo Cloud - and told him his role was to tell stories. Wagamese was married and divorced three times. He is survived by his partner Yvette Lehmann and his sons Jason (Jeneen) and Joshua, as well as ten grandchildren: Dustyn, Jordan, Dee, Zoey, Koda, Chase, Erik, Montana, Torrie and Wyatt, along with their Grandma Deb, his brother Charles (Lori) and many nieces, nephews and extended family.

"He was story. He was love," wrote Shelagh Rogers in a Facebook tribute.

BOOKS:

Keeper 'n Me. (Doubleday, 1994). 0385254520 $13.95

A Quality of Light. (Doubleday, 1997). 038525606X $18.95

For Joshua. (Doubleday, 2002). 0385257120 $32.95

Dream Wheels. (Doubleday, 2006). 0-385-66199-1 $34.95

One Native Life. (Douglas & McIntyre, 2008). 978-1-55365-364-6 $29.95

Ragged Company. (Doubleday, 2008). 9780385661560 $29.95

Runaway Dreams (Ronsdale 2011). 978-1-55380-129-0 $15.95

One Story, One Song. (Douglas & McIntyre, 2011) 978-1-55365-506-0 $29.95 / (paperback) (Douglas & McIntyre, 2015) 978-1-77162-080-2 $19.95

The Next Sure Thing (Raven Books 2011) 978-1-55469-900-1 $9.95

Indian Horse (Douglas & McIntyre, 2012 978-1-55365-402-5 $21.95

Him Standing (Orca / Raven Books 2013) 978-1-4598-0176-9

Medicine Walk (M&S 2014) 9780771089183 $29.95

Embers: One Ojibway's Meditations (Douglas & McIntyre 2016) $18.95 978-1-77162-133-5

One Drum: Stories and Ceremonies for a Planet (D & M 2019) $18.95 978-1-77162-229-5

[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2019]

 

PRESS RELEASE 2017

INDIAN HORSE, BASED ON RICHARD WAGAMESE'S AWARD-WINNING NOVEL, TO OPEN IN THEATRES ACROSS CANADA ON APRIL 13th, 2018

Toronto - November 21, 2017 - Elevation Pictures, today announced that INDIAN HORSE, based on the award-winning novel by Richard Wagamese and directed by Stephen Campanelli, will open in theatres across Canada on April 13, 2018.

After a world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, INDIAN HORSE debuted at festivals across Canada, where it received standing ovations and garnered multiple audience awards including:

  • Vancouver International Film Festival - Super Channel People's Choice Award

  • Calgary International Film Festival - Audience Favourite, Narrative Feature

  • Edmonton International Film Festival - Audience Award for Best Dramatic Feature

  • Cinefest Sudbury - Runner up, Audience Choice Award - Best Feature Film


"We have been overwhelmed by the audience's powerful reaction to the film at festivals to date. We are deeply humbled and honoured and know that Richard Wagamese would have been so proud," commented producers Christine Haebler, Trish Dolman and Paula Devonshire.

Recounting the story of Saul Indian Horse and his remarkable journey from a northern Ojibway child torn from his family and placed in one of Canada's notorious Catholic residential schools, to a man who ultimately finds his place in the world, Richard Wagamese's best-selling novel rose to critical acclaim when first published in 2012.

Douglas & McIntyre will release a special movie tie-in edition of INDIAN HORSE to coincide with the release of the film; the book will be available in stores across Canada in April, 2018.

"It means so much to us as filmmakers, and makes all the hard work so much more gratifying, that audiences are connecting to the movie; recognizing what an important powerful story it is," said Director Stephen Campanelli. "Making INDIAN HORSE changed my life, and hopefully will change many others."

Shot on location in Sudbury and Peterborough, Ontario, INDIAN HORSE stars Canadian newcomers Sladen Peltier and Ajuawak Kapashesit who, along with Forrest Goodluck (THE REVENANT), portray title character, Saul Indian Horse, at the three stages of his life. The film also stars Michiel Huisman (GAME OF THRONES, THE AGE OF ADALINE) and Michael Murphy (FALL, AWAY FROM HER, X-MEN) and features a compelling performance by newcomer Edna Manitouwabe. A residential school survivor herself, Manitouwabe brings a soulful presence as Saul's indomitable grandmother.

In late 1950s Ontario, seven year-old Saul Indian Horse is torn from his Ojibway family and committed to one of Canada's notorious Catholic residential schools. In this oppressive environment, Saul is denied the freedom to speak his language or embrace his indigenous heritage and he witnesses all kinds of abuse at the hands of the very people who were entrusted with his care. Despite this, Saul finds salvation in the unlikeliest of places and favourite Canadian pastimes - hockey. Fascinated by the game, he secretly teaches himself how to not only play but develops a unique and rare skill. It's as if he has eyes in the back of his head and can see the game in a way no other player can. His talent leads him away from the misery of the school to a Northern Ontario native league and eventually the pros. But the ghosts of Saul's past will always haunt him. Forced to confront painful memories and revelations, Saul draws on the spirit of his ancestors and the understanding of his friends to gain the compassion he so sorely needs in order to begin healing. Indian Horse is a survivor's tale that foregrounds the indomitable spirit of North America's Indigenous peoples in the face of aggressive assimilation policies and racism.

INDIAN HORSE is directed by Stephen S. Campanelli (MOMENTUM) from a script by Dennis Foon (ON THE FARM, LIFE, ABOVE ALL). Based on the eponymous, award-winning novel by Richard Wagamese (Winner of the Canada Reads People's Choice award, the First Nations Communities Reads program, short-listed for the International IMPAC DUBLIN Literary Award and a Globe and Mail top 100 book of 2012).

INDIAN HORSE is produced by Christine Haebler (HECTOR AND THE SEARCH FOR HAPPINESS, HARD CORE LOGO), Trish Dolman (HECTOR AND THE SEARCH FOR HAPPINESS, FLOWER & GARNET) and Paula Devonshire (WET BUM, SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD). Roger Frappier (THE GRAND SEDUCTION, JESUS OF MONTREAL) and Clint Eastwood serve as executive producers.

"Movie"