Wednesday marks one year since native hockey legend Fred Sasakamoose passed away.
At the age of 86, he died of complications from the COVID-19 virus. It has been a long, emotional year for the Sasakamoose family.
Neil Sasakamoose, son of the late hockey icon, described the yearlong journey as “prolonged pain”.
“[Grief] Neil said. “I’m a lot stronger now.”
Son of former NHLer native Fred Sasakamoose posts emotional video
Former NHL player from Ahtahkakoop Cree Nation who played for the Chicago Blackhawks from 1953-54. He is a residential school survivor who wrote a book called Call Me Indian: From the Trauma of Civil School based on his experience at St. Michael in Duck Lake, Sask.
Fred’s autobiography was released on May 18, a date declared by the provincial and city governments of Saskatoon as Fred Sasakamoose Day.
Fred’s list of accomplishments is lengthy. He is known for his work in founding the North Indian Hockey Federation in 1962. He is also a leader to his community and continues to mentor athletes. His achievements went unnoticed. He has been 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 24 November 2020, he died from complications of COVID-19 at Prince Albert Victoria Hospital.
Neil Sasakamoose said: “Thinking he had a cold six days later, he passed away. “The way COVID reaches and engages people is so fast.”
The whole country mourns the passing of what was named the First Indigenous Pact NHL hockey player. Messages of support and sympathy from all over the country, sending condolences to the family for the passing of a man who has had a great impact on people’s lives.
“Honestly, I don’t know how important he is,” Neil said. “He’s had an impact on so many people.”
The loss of his father prompted Neil Sasakamoose to inform the public about the severity of COVID-19 and take health precautions seriously. Sasakamoose has become one of many to speak out emphasizing the importance of everyone getting vaccinated against COVID-19.
Mobile show dedicated to NHL legend Fred Sasakamoose on his way to First Nations
Neil said: “After he passed, I really realized the safety, control and vaccinate as many people as possible. “I just don’t want anyone to go through what [our family] had to go through. ”
Under his leadership as director of the Battlefords Authority Tribal Council, Neil Sasakamoose opened a vaccination clinic in North Battleford. He said it was a challenge as he urged people to protect themselves and others by getting a COVID-19 vaccine. He followed the direction of local Elders to help him encourage more people to get vaccinated.
“Our elders have become supporters… because they [were] are all affected by COVID,” Neil said. “When they started [contracting] COVID, they became advocates. … They are strong advocates of the vaccine program. ”
The tribal council teamed up with a local sanitary ware manufacturer and opened Nîkihk to produce hygiene and personal care supplies.
Neil is in charge of the famous indigenous hockey league 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 thinks the coast will be clear to go ahead with this year’s hockey tournament. Unfortunately, he was wrong.
“We tried to run away from the grief so much that we wanted to organize this event,” he said. “We have sent [info of event] out there and we got the support. Then the accident happened.”
An outbreak of COVID-19 was reported following the hockey tournament held in Saskatoon. Neil said he felt ashamed and accepted responsibility for the outbreak. Eight players from a team in Waswanipi, Que., who compete in the league, have tested positive for COVID-19.
“I made a mistake,” he said. “You have two choices. You can be an event organizer and operator from [responsibility] or face it [and] admit what you did was wrong. And that’s what I did.”
Neil Sasakamoose personally called to apologize to the community where hockey players come from. He watched other hockey teams from the league to make sure everyone was safe. He followed up event attendees to get tested for COVID-19.
“I was so embarrassed that I [held] an event happened with COVID when my dad was out there,” Neil said. “Regardless of all the safety we put in place, it doesn’t matter. When you rally people, you have to accept what you’re doing. Don’t blame the province or anyone. You must take full responsibility as the event organizer”.
Wednesday, the Sasakamoose family will celebrate the hockey legend’s life with a traditional local party with only close family members.
In memory of Fred Saskamoose
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