June 18th, 2024

MLA’s life influenced by Kainai warrior Mike Mountain Horse

By Ry Clarke - Lethbridge Herald Local Journalism Initiative Reporter on March 7, 2023.

Herald photo by Ry Clarke Former MLA Tom Sindlinger drew inspiration and life lessons from Mike Mountain Horse and is hoping to create a play about the legacy of the Kainai warrior.

A former Alberta politician is looking to tell the story of Kainai warrior Mike Mountain Horse and his influence on tolerance and respect.

Tom Sindlinger, who was MLA for Calgary-Buffalo in 1979 to 1982, has compiled a document he hopes to turn into a play, showcasing the life and work of a man who influenced his own life.

Sindlinger spent 23-years with Mountain Horse when he was married to his biological grandmother, Mary Mountain Horse. During those years, Sindlinger says he was influenced by the stories Mountain Horse told him, guiding him toward tolerance and respect.

“When you get to be an old guy like me, I’m looking back and saying ‘what do I think was the most important to me?’ and I was surprised by how much I was influenced in my life by this guy. I lived with him for his last 23-years before he died. I knew him as an infant, all the way through my youth.”

The play, titled The Dirty Old Indian, is based on a story Mountain Horse used to tell Sindlinger, conveying a message of identity and understanding.

“One of his stories he taught me, The Dirty Old Indian, is about tolerance and respect, rights and responsibilities. These are the most important guidelines you can have as an individual through your whole life; respect the person regardless of what they are doing, their age, what they look like. That, to me, has been my guiding light.”

Mountain Horse, who worked on coal-fired steam engines, was elected president of the union. After work he went with his coworkers to have a beer to celebrate, but was denied service for being Indigenous. Sitting alone he was subject to pointing and laughing, hearing himself called a dirty old Indian.

“He tells me the story of other people in the bar that night, pointing at him in the corner,” said Sindlinger. “He would laugh it off, because he thought that was the funniest thing. Because he was dirty, he worked in the roundhouse coming home filthy, plus he was old, and he was an Indian. He’s been in the war, wounded three times, buried alive once for four days. He gave his life so those guys could point and laugh. He told me that story so many times, he was proud of that every time. That is what taught me so much about life.”

Sindlinger notes the story taught him about perception, and how it is easy to insult someone based on appearance, but it takes a certain person to find out who they are underneath.

“I remember the significance of it. It doesn’t matter who I talked to, or what they said or did. I could take their point of view and understand and respect them for it.”

Looking to share the story of the man who influenced him, Sindlinger will be presenting his piece at the Yates Memorial Theatre on May 22, 2023, and sharing his story and ideas for what he hopes can be a thought-provoking play on Mountain Horse’s history and impacts.

“I’ll be telling the story of Dirty Old Indian and how this man was a hero.

Mountain Horse was a warrior who fought in the battles of Vimy Ridge, Hill 70, Amiens, and Cambrai. Wounded three times in battles, he would go on to keep fighting, passing away in 1964.

“I saw him on his deathbed. The last time I saw him he was in the hospital, the Indian hospital on the other side of the no-Indian hospital. This was 1964. He was telling me stories, and every time he would tell the story he would do it as though it were the first time you heard it, because he was proud.”

With a personal connection to a man who was a warrior for his people, Sindlinger hopes his story will be told across Canada and provide more insight and knowledge to a historical figure who fought for his people and country.

“It’s not a story about just an Indian anymore, it’s a story about people. Whether you’re tall or short, young or old, black, white, red, green, or blue, there is a message here from a man that applies to today. That’s why I am so inspired and motivated to do this.”

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