Fred Sasakamoose, one of the first Aboriginal NHL athletes, dies at 86

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Fred Sasakamoose, one of the first Indigenous NHL players, has died after battling a suspected case of COVID-19.He was 86 years old.

Fred’s son Neil announced his death on Tuesday in a video posted to Facebook.

Neil said last week that his father was hospitalized in Saskatchewan with a suspected case of COVID-19 after experiencing wheezing and chest pain.

Sasakamoose played 11 NHL games with the Blackhawks in 1953-54, becoming one of the first Aboriginal players in the then six-team league.

During his time in Chicago, he faced greats like Maurice Richard and Gordie Howe.

He also had a rich junior career, playing several seasons with the Moose Jaw Canucks of the Western Canada Junior Hockey League.

Sasakamoose was one of 11 children, although only five survived childhood. He was forcibly taken from his central Saskatchewan community to a residential school as a child, and told a 2012 Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearing that he was sexually assaulted by d ‘other students there.

He also recalled being whipped and pouring coal oil on his head.

At school, he met a Reverend who was convinced he could make Sasakamoose a famous hockey player.

“He said to me, ‘Freddie, I’m going to make a champion out of you,’ Sasakamoose recalls in a video released by Hockey Canada in 2017.

Being someone that young Aboriginal people could admire was important to Sasakamoose.

“To pave the way for Indian and Métis children, they see you as a role model and say ‘Wow’. They look at my rings and my photos. This is what I earn in life. That’s what got me to where I am, ”he says in the video.

“Now it’s up to you to follow in the footsteps – maybe better. ”

At the end of his playing career, Sasakamoose returned to the Ahtahkoakoop Cree Nation north of Saskatoon. He became a councilor and band leader and worked on the development of minor hockey and other sports programs across Saskatchewan.

He was made a Member of the Order of Canada in 2017 and received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Saskatchewan earlier this year.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the summons ceremony was virtual, so Sasakamoose recorded a video message.

“I have had a difficult life,” he said. “You want to be someone, so it takes, you know, a little more effort.” ”

Yet the pioneer of Native hockey wanted his story to be heard. His book, “Call Me Indian”, is due out in April.

“The time will come when I will no longer be here,” Sasakamoose said in his convening message. “But my voice you will always use.” “

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