Trailblazer. Icon. Community champion.
Many words have been used to describe Fred Sasakamoose, but in the wake of his death, national women’s hockey team member Brigette Lacquette simply calls him her “buddy.”
“He was kind of just like a friend, I guess, just someone that’s very likeable and humble and you know he was just a remarkable person,” Lacquette said.
Sasakamoose died on Nov. 24 at the age of 86, five days after being hospitalized with COVID-19.
One of the first Indigenous hockey players to make it to the National Hockey League, he paved the way for athletes like Lacquette, who is the first Indigenous woman to play for Team Canada.
“He definitely knocked that door down and to have someone like that do that it’s obviously inspirational to every Indigenous hockey player,” she said.
The two became acquainted while representing the First Nations hockey community at a number of different events. Lacquette has fond memories of their time together at the 2019 Heritage Classic in Regina, where, among other things, they took part in the ceremonial faceoff.
“I remember how cold it was in Regina but I also remember how fun it was to be there and to drop the puck and he was kind of in and out just because it was so cold that day but just to kind of have a conversation and just talk with him, it was something that I’ll always remember,” she said.
Sasakamoose was a survivor. Taken from his home at a young age and placed in a residential school, he eventually found himself playing junior hockey in Moose Jaw before joining the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks prior to the 1953-54 season.
His journey from the residential school system to the NHL served as a beacon of hope for Indigenous athletes and a source of pride for his people.
“Everywhere I went with him, everybody had to come shake his hand and talk to him, and he opened his heart and his thoughts to everybody that he could speak to,” said Chief Larry Ahenakew of the Ahtahkakoop Cree Nation, Sasakamoose’s home.
While his NHL career totaled just 11 games, it led Saskamoose into a lifetime of service. He helped bring hockey to Indigenous communities and inspired countless others to chase their dreams.
His accomplishments as a First Nations hockey ambassador eventually led to his investment in the Order of Canada in 2017.
“He believed in his culture, his language, his people. He believed in us getting along with non-Native people, races around the world. He believed in a lot of the good qualities of what we should be striving for,” son Neil Sasakamoose said in a video posted on Facebook.
It’s a legacy that will live on for generations to come.
“He’s the epitome of hard work and perseverance and his story reveals the hardships that he faced while overcoming the impossible,” Lacquette said.
“Going from a residential school to the NHL, he’s an inspiration.”
© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
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