Indian Horse. The Movie

Will Strongheart, Tristen Marty, Vance Banzo, Forrest Goodluck and Dylan Cook. Photos courtesy of Dylan Cook

A film currently in production, and one to definitely watch for, is ‘Indian Horse’.

“This story needs to be shared. It’s based on the book (Indian Horse, 2012) by Richard Wagamese.” shared Dylan Cook, one of the films actors, in an interview with saultonline. “It centers around a First Nation boy, named Saul.”

Dylan Cook is from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. Cook is among an emerging star line-up of young talent, which includes many First Nation actors and crew.

‘Indian Horse’ weaves a story where hockey becomes a transcendent pursuit for a young boy, Saul, emotionally scarred, by residential school,  growing up in the 1960’s and 70’s. The boy’s life is also layered with an adoption, family bonds, the camaraderie of brothers, and the fellowship of hockey. As young Saul moves into adulthood, he carries with him generational trauma; fractured attachments cast haunting shadows over his life.

The novel, ‘Indian Horse’ by Richard Wagamese, (Douglas & McIntyre. D & M Publishers Inc. Vancouver/Toronto) was the winner of the Canada Reads People’s Choice Award (2013) and the First Nations Communities Reads program. It was short-listed for the International IMPAC DUBLIN Literary Award. The novel is also a ‘Globe and Mail’ top 100 book of 2012.

‘With compassion and insight, author Richard Wagamese traces through his fictional characters the decline of a culture and a cultural way. For Saul (Indian Horse), 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. Indian Horse unfolds against the bleak loveliness of northern Ontario, all rock, marsh, bog and cedar. Wagamese writes with a spare beauty, penetrating the heart of a remarkable Ojibway man.’ (

At 24 years old, Dylan Cook, actor, has accomplished quite a bit.

“I was born and raised in the Sault. I work side by side with my father, at JD Aero, which is pretty cool.” Dylan works as a technician. He says that maintaining a responsible job has been important for helping to finance his passion. “There were times I was praying I had enough gas to get to Sudbury.”

“My parents are understanding and give me support and time to audition for films and television whenever the opportunity arises.”

“I’m half First Nations. My father is Russell Cook and my mother is Renee (Neveau) Smith. My step father is Darrid Smith. I learned a lot about my first nation culture through my mom and her family.”

Reflecting on his role as a hockey player on a team called ‘The Moose’, Cook said, “I was in Sudbury for 6 days out of the thirty days they shot there. Me and the guys on ‘The Moose’, the travelling hockey team, were all there together.  I play one of Saul’s good pals, Stu Little Chief.”

indianhorsescreensirenproductionsposter“The Kelly family adopts Saul. Fred (adoptive father) and Virgil (brother)  push Saul and encourage him to nurture his gift. Virgil was captain of ‘The Moose’. Saul has an undeniable gift; like from the Creator. He has an ability to see things (on ice) before they happen. Saul eventually rises to great success with hockey.”

Relationships are what forged the blades of Saul’s hockey skates, propping him up; giving him courage of purpose. Lacing up his skates, in the 60’s and 70’s, is for Saul, a pathway propelling him onward. He’s very good at hockey. A star, in fact. Saul, and the travelling First Nation hockey team would face racism as they dug deep to play the game; Hockey in small town, northern Ontario, Canada.

‘Saul’s talent leads him away from the misery of the (residential) school to a Northern Ontario Native (hockey) league and eventually the pros. But the ghosts of Saul’s past are always present, and threaten to derail his promising career and future. Forced to confront his painful past, Saul draws on the spirit of his ancestors and the understanding of his friends to begin the process of healing.’ a media release stated.

Cook shared that there were emotional times on set, when turning to culture, smudge, prayer, were everything.

“Our fist nation liaison, Julia Pegahmagabow, was on set. We had a traditional smudge before our scenes to kind of protect our spirits from becoming overwhelmed. She was there to help us through all of that. Any time we needed to step out, Julia was there. Everyone on set was so awesome about it, not just the first nation cast and crew; everybody.” he said. “As actors, some of the scenes were harsh; emotional. We’re all one family now.”

‘Saul Indian Horse was torn from his family as a young boy and sent to one of Canada’s notorious residential schools. There, amidst the horror of abuse, psychological torture and despair, Saul finds salvation in the unlikeliest of places and favourite Canadian past-times — hockey. Starting with skates stuffed with paper and horse pucks, Saul teaches himself the game and then develops a special ability to see the rink in a way no other player does. His talent is his ticket out of misery and leads him to a Northern Ontario native league and eventually the pros. But, the past will always haunt him. As he draws on his great-grandfather’s mystical vision, a story of love, family and the power of spirit unfolds. Saul comes to recognize the influence of everyday magic on his own life.’ (

“For me, being immersed in such excellent creativity was incredible.” said Cook.  “Our Director, Stephen Campanelli worked as part of Clint Eastwood’s camera team on several major films.” adding “Stephen is one of his trusted crew members”.

Campanelli was been behind the camera for films, Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, Flags Of Our Fathers, to name a few. Campanelli was also part of the camera crew for ‘Sully’ (2016) starring Tom Hanks.

Cook had great admiration for the entire cast and crew. “There were close to 70 people in the crew on ‘Indian Horse’, with at least thirty actors.  “A lot of them are from northern areas. Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie, Kenora, Wikwemikong, and more.”

During filming, smudge filled the atmosphere and provided a trusted connection to Creator throughout the days and nights while shooting. Scenes were shot in and around the geography of Sudbury and Killarney, Ont. After filming wrapped up in Sudbury, members of cast and crew headed to southern Ontario, where production is currently still underway.

Cook described times when the young actors who played the roles of ‘The Moose’ hockey team would be together – talking. “We realized that we have all had similar upbringings – shared experiences. We’ve all witnessed racism in certain aspects of our lives. There was a scene when we experience trauma; racism in a brutal manner. It was hard on everybody to absorb these feelings.”

indianhorseamazoncoverpictureCook said that Indian Horse isn’t just a story about a hockey team. “It’s a story about so many first nations men; young men who tried to make it in the world but because of these things that happened to them, residential school …. it was so hard to come up. I can’t imagine what young Saul would have been feeling. It was very intense, especially for (the actor playing) young Saul, trying to find his way.”

“Ever since I was a kid, I was interested in acting, but didn’t think I could shoot for a career in it.” he said

“Two years ago I auditioned for a small part in a TV show that I couldn’t have imagined would become one of the biggest shows on TV.  I was in Season 1 and now Season 2 is airing.” Cook is referring to LetterKenney, a hot Canadian production on ‘Crave TV’.  Most recently, he can be seen in the December 25th (Season 2) episode, ‘A Tribute to Wayne’.

“I was at art school – design school at George Brown College (2011). An opportunity to audition for (movie) ‘The Lesser Blessed’ came along. It filmed in Sudbury too.” he said. “It is another First Nation film. I got a chance to get into acting then. I played Mustache Sammy and then other roles kept coming along. On the crew side of things, I worked as a production assistant; I’ve worked in Craft services. It’s been an incredible journey to here.”

“This whole experience has been a real dream of mine. Telling stories is what First Nation culture is all about. I’m just so grateful to be on this journey and to have had the opportunities I’ve had.”

Saultonline will be following Dylan Cook, as he shoots for the stars. Indeed, he already has.

No release date has been shared yet for ‘Indian Horse’. The Movie.

Novelist, Richard Wagamese (Indian Horse) is Ojibway from the Wabaseemoong First Nation in Ontario. A member of the Sturgeon Clan, he is one of Canada’s foremost authors and journalists. He is the author of six novels, one collection of poetry and three memoirs. His most recent novels, Indian Horse (2012) and Medicine Walk (2014) were national bestsellers and published to brilliant reviews. Indian Horse was the People’s Choice finalist in the 2013 Canada Reads competition. Richard has also been honored with the 2012 National Aboriginal Achievement Award for Media & Communications and the Molson Prize for the Arts in 2013.. 2013-2014 First Nation Communities Read Selection. CODE’s Burt Award for First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Literature. In collaboration with the Literary Prizes Foundation, the Burt Award for First Nations, Inuit and Métis Literature is given annually to English-language literary works for young adults by First Nations, Inuit or Métis authors.

‘Indian Horse’ Movie: ‘Screen Writer: Dennis Foon. Director: Stephen S. Campanelli. Producer(s): Christine Haebler, Trish Dolman, Jim Brebner, Paula Devonshire, Roger Frappier, Justin Kelly. Development Funding: Telefilm Canada, HGF, Cogeco.’

Lynne Brown
Algoma writer and reporter. Has written for special editions Thunder Bay Chronicle Journal. In the 80’s, Lynne worked for AutoTrader Magazine in rural Southwestern Ont. Trudging through farmers’ fields for a picture of a 56 Dodge Custom Royale was considered a very good day. Special interests include issues relating to rural life, seniors, travel, history, community development and indigenous peoples. email to Twitter: @dlynnebrown.