Fred Sasakamoose: Indigenous NHL pioneer dies at 86 after battle with Covid-19

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“This Covid virus did so much damage to his lungs, he just couldn’t keep responding, his body just couldn’t keep up,” Sasakamoose’s Neil said in the video.

Sasakamoose played 11 games with the Chicago Black Hawks during the 1953-54 season, according to the NHL website. He’s widely believed to be the first Indigenous player in league history, although the NHL tells CNN it’s impossible to determine.

A wave of respect came from across the NHL following news of Sasakamoose’s death.

“This lasting impact of his legacy will be celebrated forever and will continue to bring people together for generations to come,” the Black Chicago Hawks organization said on its website. “To the entire Sasakamoose family, which includes his wife, Loretta, four children and over 100 grandchildren and great-grandchildren, the Chicago Blackhawks organization extends our deepest condolences.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement that Sasakamoose was the first Cree player to appear in an NHL game at the age of 19. Sasakamoose then dedicated his life to “serving the First Nations community – using hockey and other sports to provide opportunities for Aboriginal youth,” Bettman said.

“The story of Sasakamoose’s groundbreaking 11-game NHL career with the Chicago Black Hawks in 1953-54 was the culmination of years of dedication to overcoming adversity in pursuit of a dream, and the central point at which he focused on helping others pursue their dreams, ”said Bettman.

Bryan Trottier, who is also of Aboriginal descent and is a Hockey Hall of Fame center, called Sasakamoose “a pioneer, someone of First Nations blood who was a successful player, broke barriers,” according to the NHL website.

“He didn’t realize how inspiring he was, which makes him a humble man, which to me looks a lot like Jean Béliveau and Gordie Howe and all those guys we hold in such high regard.” , said Trottier.

Fred Sasakamoose reacts by receiving a check for the Jems and Jets hockey team from Johnny during a ceremony held at the United Center on October 19, 2002 in Chicago, Illinois.

Reggie Leach, who played for the Boston Bruins, California Golden Seals, Philadelphia Flyers and Detroit Red Wings, said he didn’t know Sasakamoose until he was 16. says the NHL website.

“He was one of the players that we wanted to be like him and play in the National Hockey League,” Leach said. “He achieved his goal and it was a great achievement back then in the 1950s, being a First Nations member and playing in the NHL. If you think about it, it’s amazing what he had to go through and what he went through going to residential school. and accomplish what he did. It is simply amazing. ”

Residential schools “were part of a government sponsored religious education system designed to assimilate the indigenous children of the country. The schools, which began in the 1880s and closed in 1996, were rife with abuse, ”according to the NHL.

The Blackhawks honored Sasakamoose in 2002 and the Edmonton Oilers did the same in 2014 as part of their celebration of First Nations hockey, the NHL said.

Sasakamoose was inducted into the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame in 2007, according to the NHL.

Father seemed in a good mood a few hours before death

Neil spoke to his father on the phone just hours before he passed away and said he seemed in a good mood and not afraid of what might lie ahead.

“I’m not scared, I’m ready to go, if I have to go, I’ll go,” Neil remembers, telling his father.

“You know what, daddy? If you’re tired, go. You go and don’t worry about us here. You leave. If you’re tired and you get beaten up and your body struggles, you go ahead and go, ”Neil told his father.

Neil said his mother Loretta – his father’s partner for 65 years – is currently on lockdown, as are Neil’s sisters. Prior to his death, Sasakamoose lived on the Ahathkakoop Cree Nation reserve in Saskatchewan.

Sasakamoose has an autobiography slated for spring 2021, titled “Call Me Indian: From Residential School Trauma To Becoming The First Aboriginal NHL Treaty Player.”

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