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Statue of Indigenous hockey icon Fred Sasakamoose unveiled in Saskatoon

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A statue of Indigenous hockey trailblazer Fred Sasakamoose was unveiled outside SaskTel Centre on Wednesday.

“I’m overwhelmed with mixed emotions. You’re memorializing someone you wish was here,” said Sasakamoose’s son Neil.

Sasakamoose, from Ahtahkakoop Cree Nation, was one of the first Indigenous hockey players from Canada to play in the National Hockey League (NHL). He played for the Chicago Blackhawks during the 1953-1954 season.

After retiring from competitive hockey a few years later, Sasakamoose dedicated his life to encouraging young people through sport and breaking the racial barrier for Indigenous hockey players in the NHL.

“He didn’t believe in any racism or hate. He only believed in love in his heart, so I think that’s a message for everyone,” Neil said.

“(The statue is) designed for Indigenous people to be proud, first of all. And it’s designed for Canadian people to understand the differences and the struggles that this generation had, and it’s following through today.”

Sasakamoose died in November 2020 after contracting COVID-19.

The statue was commissioned by the Synergy 8 Community Builders as well as the Saskatoon Tribal Council (STC) and the Battlefords Agency Tribal Chiefs.

“Recognizing Indian people for their success because Indian people have value and you see it when we have leaders like Fred, we can make a difference,” STC Tribal Chief Mark Arcand said at the unveiling ceremony. 

Mayor Charlie Clark also shared some words on what it means to have this statue in Saskatoon on Treaty 6 territory.

“Kids walking up the steps will see Fred Sasakamoose on one side, Gordie Howe on the other and be able to draw inspiration and strength.”

Representatives from the NHL also came out to show their support and recognize the work Sasakamoose has done to make the game more inclusive.

“What he represents to Indigenous communities across Canada and the U.S. is unmatched. We at the NHL are working hard to bring Indigenous boys and girls to our game and show them a better sport, but Fred did this effortlessly,” said Rob Knesaurek, vice president of diversity with the NHL.

Brigette Lacquette, a pro scout for the Chicago Blackhawks who is from Mallard, Man. and Cote First Nation Saskatchewan, shared the team’s appreciation for everything Sasakamoose has done.

“We’re so proud to have Fred as one of the team’s distinguished alumni. He inspired, continues to inspire many across our great game of hockey and throughout North America,” she said.

Neil said he hopes the statue will help inspire the next generation of Indigenous athletes and act as a reminder for people to always remember where they came from.

“If you’re born in a small town or a First Nation or Metis community, don’t get too big for your britches. Always remember where you come from and who put you there,” he said.

“And that’s what my dad did, he could’ve stayed in the U.S. and he could’ve lived a life of hockey and travelling, but he came back to his community and he lived there until the day he died. So, that’s his reminder, that’s how my dad would’ve said it. Always remember where you come from.”

The statue unveiling comes a day before the Fred Sasakamoose Chief Thunderstick National Hockey Championship kicks off at Merlis Belsher Place and the Rod Hamm Memorial Arena.

The tournament features First Nations, Metis and Inuit men’s and women’s hockey teams from across Canada and runs from May 19 to 21.

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