Fred Sasakamoose, Indigenous NHL trailblazer, details his life in a new memoir
Published Monday, May 17, 2021 4:03PM EDT
TORONTO -- The first treaty Indigenous player in the NHL, Fred Sasakamoose, will tell his story in his own words in a posthumous memoir.
The book “Call Me Indian: From the Trauma of Residential School to Becoming the NHL’s first Treaty Indigenous Player,” is scheduled to be released on Tuesday. It details Sasakamoose's brief time in the league, as well as his years spent off the ice, which were dedicated to helping his community and advocating for Indigenous peoples.
“It’s his last memoir; it’s his last memory of himself and how he viewed the world and how his experiences changed his life and made him who he was towards the end of his life,” his son, Neil Sasakamoose, said Monday on CTV's Your Morning.
Sasakamoose began and ended his NHL career with the Chicago Blackhawks during the 1953-1954 season, playing a total of 11 games. His career continued in the minor leagues until 1960.
After leaving hockey, according to his biography at the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame, Sasakamoose returned home to the Ahtahkakoop First Nation, where he helped develop sports programs and facilities to help people access equipment, training and tournaments.
In 1962, driven by his love for hockey and his community, Sasakamoose helped create the Northern Indian Hockey League, which led to the development of hockey arenas in communities in northern Saskatchewan.
Sasakamoose went on to establish the Fred Sasakamoose All Star Hockey Week, a hockey camp focused on both the sport and the importance of diversity, as well as the Fred Sasakamoose “Chief Thunderstick” National Hockey Championship, a national Indigenous men’s hockey league.
“His whole dream in life was to try to get an Indigenous team to the NHL,” Neil said. “He loved it when the national team...or the Olympic teams had an Indigenous player on them. He used to cheer really hard for them.”
Sasakamoose’s own path to the NHL wasn’t an easy one. At the age of seven, he was taken from his family and put in a residential school in Saskatchewan, where he experienced trauma and abuse.
As one of the few Indigenous players in the NHL at the time, and the first player with treaty status, Sasakamoose paved the way for Indigenous hockey players and never forgot his language, culture or beliefs.
Sasakamoose was an advocate for diversity and representation. He served on the NHL Diversity Task Force and the Aboriginal Healing Foundation. In 2012, he gave testimony on his experiences in the residential school system during Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
He was inducted into the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame in 2007 and in 2017, he received the Order of Canada.
Sasakamoose died from COVID-19 on Nov. 24, 2020.
Neil Sasakamoose said that the release of his father's memoir is a difficult, but exciting moment for the family.
“It’s been a long journey for us to recover from these last four to five months of going through these stages,” he said. “It’s a bittersweet moment. We’re honoured, at the same time. We’re just hoping that people will read the book and grab the book.”