Wednesday marks one year since the death of an indigenous hockey legend, Fred Sasakamoose.
He was 86 years old when he passed away from complications from the COVID-19 virus. It has been a long and emotional year for the Sasakamoose family.
Neil Sasakamoose, son of the late hockey icon, described the year-long journey as a “nagging pain.”
“[Grief] it stays and hangs around you no matter what you do, ”Neil said. “I am much stronger now.”
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The former NHL player was from the Ahtahkakoop Cree Nation who played for the Chicago Blackhawks in 1953-54. He was a residential school survivor who wrote a book called Call me an Indian: from the trauma of the residential school based on his experience at St. Michael’s Residential School in Duck Lake, Sask.
Fred’s autobiography was published on May 18, the day that both the provincial government and the city of Saskatoon proclaimed as Fred Sasakamoose Day.
Fred’s list of accomplishments is extensive. He was known for his work in establishing the North Indian Hockey League in 1962. He also served as a community leader and continued to mentor athletes. His achievements went unnoticed. He was inducted into the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame, the Saskatchewan First Nations Sports Hall of Fame, among others. In 2018, Sasakamoose received the Order of Canada.
On November 24, 2020, he died of complications from COVID-19 at Prince Albert Victoria Hospital.
“Thinking he had a cold six days later, he left,” said Neil Sasakamoose. “It’s so fast how COVID hits and takes people away.”
The nation mourned the loss of a man who became known as the NHL’s first Indian Treaty hockey player. Messages of support and sympathy came from across the country, offering condolences to the family for the loss of a man who had such an impact on people’s lives.
“I didn’t know how important it was, to be honest,” Neil said. “It had a great impact on so many people.”
The loss of his father amplified Neil Sasakamoose’s drive to inform the public about the severity of COVID-19 and to take health precautions seriously. Sasakamoose became one of many voices that emphasized the importance of people receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.
Mobile program dedicated to NHL legend Fred Sasakamoose on his way to First Nations
“After his death, I really got into security, checkpoints and vaccinating as many people as we could,” Neil said. “I just didn’t want anyone to go through what [our family] had to happen “.
Under his leadership as director of the Battlefords Agency Tribal Council, Neil Sasakamoose opened a vaccination clinic in North Battleford. He said it was challenging when he urged people to protect themselves and others by getting COVID-19 vaccination. He reached out to local elders to help him encourage more people to get vaccinated.
“Our Elders became advocates … because they [were] all affected by COVID, ”Neil said. “When they start [contracting] COVID, they became advocates. … They were strong supporters of the vaccine program. “
The tribal council partnered with a local cleaning supplies manufacturer and opened Nîkihk to produce cleaning and personal care supplies.
Neil was in charge of the popular Indian hockey tournament named after his late father. The Fred Sasakamoose “Chief Thunderstick” National Hockey Championship is held every year and teams come from all over the country to compete. With the provincial government lifting some restrictions at the time, Neil Sasakamoose thought the coast would be clear to go ahead with this year’s hockey tournament. Unfortunately, I was wrong.
“We were trying so hard to get away from the pain that we wanted to organize this event,” he said. “We send the [info of event] out there and we got a lot of support. Then the event came. “
A COVID-19 outbreak was reported after the hockey tournament held in Saskatoon. Neil said he was embarrassed and took responsibility for the outbreak. Eight players from a team in Waswanipi, Que., That competed in the tournament, tested positive for COVID-19.
“I made a mistake,” he said. “There are two options you have. You can be an event organizer and run from [responsibility] or face it [and] admit that what you did was wrong. And that is what I did “.
Neil Sasakamoose called personally to apologize to the community where the hockey players are from. He followed up with other hockey teams in the tournament to make sure everyone was safe. He followed up with people who attended the event to get tested for COVID-19.
“I was so embarrassed that [held] an event that came out with COVID when my dad passed away, “said Neil. “Regardless of all the security we put in place, it doesn’t matter. When you put people together, you have to accept what you are doing. You cannot blame the province or anyone. You have to accept full responsibility as an event organizer. “
On Wednesday, the Sasakamoose family will commemorate the life of the hockey legend with a traditional indigenous feast with only close family members.
Paying tribute to Fred Saskamoose
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