Fred Sasakamoose: Hockey trailblazer leaves impression on young reporter
Former Chicago Blackhawks player, and the first Indigenous pro hockey player, Fred Sasakamoose is honoured at the Edmonton Oilers and Chicago Blackhawks game in Edmonton on December 29, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
CALGARY -- I was saddened to hear of the passing of Fred Sasakamoose, the NHL's first Canadian Indigenous player. He inspired many young Indigenous hockey players and left a lasting impression on this reporter after our initial meeting more than two decades ago.
I first met Fred back in the mid-1990s when I was covering his trial on illegal fishing charges.
He was caught on video selling fish to the public in the town of Blaine Lake in a Saskatchewan Fish and Wildlife sting,
The Crown alleged that was illegal, but Sasakamoose argued treaty rights allowed him not only the right to fish, but to make a living from selling the fish.
He was not in a great mood while being tried, and wasn't too interested in talking to a reporter like myself, but once he learned my last name, his eyes lit up and he was very friendly to me!
Fred was from the Big River First Nation and later lived on the Ahtahkakoop Cree Nation. Right in the middle of both of those places is the Debden/Victoire area, where my dad grew up on the farm.
The name "Frenette" is well known in those parts, and Fred knew many of my relatives.
I later interviewed him several times when he made appearances at youth hockey events around Saskatchewan. He was very popular, with many young hockey players wanting his autograph. He shared stories about his hockey heyday; when he lit up the Western Canadian Junior League with the Moose Jaw Canucks, and when he went to the big show in Chicago with the Blackhawks.
One of the last times I saw him was when I was covering the Saskatchewan Indigenous Summer Games at Ahtahkakoop. We were driving our news van through the sporting grounds, with the windows down, and I heard someone call out from the crowd, "Frenette!"
It was Fred, with a smile on his face, making sure I felt welcome.
I see that his autobiography Call me Indian is scheduled to come out in April . Can't wait to get my hands on it. And I am sure his life story would make a great movie.