EDMONTON, Alberta — Fred Sasakamoose, known as the National Hockey League’s first indigenous player, was honored prior to the Chicago Blackhawks and Edmonton Oilers game Dec. 29 in Edmonton, Alberta.
In recognition of Sasakamoose receiving the Order of Canada for his contributions to First Nations’ sport and culture, the Oilers held a ceremonial puck drop ceremony. Sasakamoose, 84, of the Ahtahkakoop Cree Nation in Saskatchewan, dropped the puck between Chicago’s Jonathan Toews and Edmonton’s Connor McDavid with Indian chiefs from Saskatchewan and northern Alberta also at center ice.
Created in 1967, the Order of Canada, one of the country’s highest civilian honors, recognizes outstanding achievement, dedication to the community and service to the nation. Appointments are made by the governor general on the recommendation of the Advisory Council for the Order of Canada.
Sasakamoose played 11 games for Chicago in the 1953-54 season.
The following passage is from the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame, which Sasakamoose was inducted into in 2007:
Following his time in Chicago, Sasakamoose returned home to the Ahtahkakoop First Nation northwest of Prince Albert to help give others the same opportunities he received. With no athletic equipment, events or facilities in the area, he worked extensively to build and develop minor hockey and other sports in the community. Initially the focus was on long-distance running, but expanded to include hockey, soccer, baseball and track and field. Tournaments, leagues and sports days followed as a result of these initiatives, as well as the Saskatchewan Indian Summer and Winter Games. In addition to the goal of developing champions, Sasakamoose also promoted positive lifestyles and the importance of volunteerism.
In 1962, Sasakamoose focused his efforts on hockey as one of the founding members of the Northern Indian Hockey League. His promotion of the game helped spur the construction of arenas in communities in northern Saskatchewan. More recently, he assisted with the All Nations Hockey School in Saskatoon before establishing the Fred Sasakamoose All Star Hockey Week; a hockey camp that focuses on diversity and integration in addition to hockey skills. Sasakamoose also served on the NHL Diversity Task Force, as well as the Aboriginal Healing Foundation. Besides promoting the game of hockey, he has used the sport as a platform to bring awareness to the plight of Aboriginal Peoples throughout North America. Sasakamoose also became involved in First Nations politics following his hockey career.