Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

A father's difficult path to redemption

  • Print

While Medicine Walk is no Indian Horse, the brilliant 2012 novel from Richard Wagamese, it is a distinctive, powerfully written work nevertheless. From Kamloops, B.C., Wagamese continues to show a talent for storytelling.

In fact, many of the characters in the novel are storytellers themselves. These compelling characters, as well as the stories they tell, are some of Medicine Walk's more striking achievements.

The novel has a slow start, with "the old man" figuring prominently. His lack of a name at the outset forces the reader into some initial head-scratching.

Protagonist Franklin Starlight, the old man's adopted child, proves to be an interesting focus at various ages, especially because of his stressful relationship with Eldon Starlight, his biological father.

Eldon identifies himself as "Indian," claiming to be Ojibway. He also claims to be a warrior, but has a hard time impressing on his son that he's worthy of a warrior's burial.

It's not surprising that Franklin struggles to admire Eldon. To begin with, it wasn't until he was seven years old that he learned Eldon, not "the old man," was his biological father.

Years of broken promises then minimized the possibility of a positive father-son relationship.

Furthermore, Franklin's impressions of his father are partially formed from watching Eldon (and many other characters) frequently chugalugging straight whiskey. Eldon keeps some pretty rough company, including the regulars who drink in Charlie's hangout.

While not aboriginal, the old man is the one who successfully teaches Franklin many native traditions and practices, including the tracking and hunting of moose, elk, coyotes and black bear.

In the context of this book, a "medicine walk" appears to take the form of a journey -- accompanying one who is approaching death to his final resting place.

During Franklin's walk with Eldon, the boy's empathy for his father increases. This is especially true as he learns the tragic circumstances of his father's life, including his participation in the Korean War, as well as the hardships of Angie, his mother, who died giving birth to Franklin.

Wagamese's depiction of the fighting in the war is particularly graphic. Quite dramatic in its own right is the profound story of Eldon and Jimmy Weaseltail, his only friend.

One of the most striking features of Medicine Walk is the description of animal life and the magnificent British Columbia interior.

Readers may find some initial difficulty with the language of the book, notably the apparently indiscriminate use of pronouns.

Too often a character is referred to as "he" without clear identification of the person involved; as such, conversations are sometimes rather confusing.

Still, Medicine Walk is a moving read, full of unforgettable characters and scenarios.

The conclusion of the medicine walk, and the boy's burial of his father, are emotionally gripping.

Ron Kirbyson is a Winnipeg writer who hopes to continue learning about aboriginal culture.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 26, 2014 A1

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Jets This Week: Crunching the playoff numbers

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A young gosling prepares to eat dandelions on King Edward St Thursday morning-See Bryksa 30 Day goose challenge- Day 17- bonus - May 24, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • A baby Red Panda in her area at the Zoo. International Red Panda Day is Saturday September 15th and the Assiniboine Park Zoo will be celebrating in a big way! The Zoo is home to three red pandas - Rufus, Rouge and their cub who was born on June 30 of this year. The female cub has yet to be named and the Assiniboine Park Zoo is asking the community to help. September 14, 2012  BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

View More Gallery Photos


Do you plan on attending the Winnipeg Folk Festival this year?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google