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Hockey helped Fred Sasakamoose - and now he's reaching out to youth

By Dale Johnson Posted: March 1, 2016 11:00 a.m.

Former NHL player Fred Sasakamoose drops the puck at a hockey game for the Ehrlo Sport Ventures, at the Co-operators Centre Arena at Evraz Place in Regina.
Former NHL player Fred Sasakamoose drops the puck at a hockey game for the Ehrlo Sport Ventures, at the Co-operators Centre Arena at Evraz Place in Regina. Photo courtesy of Shinoah Young

Fred Sasakamoose, the first Aboriginal player in the NHL with the Chicago Blackhawks in the 1950s, hopes that hockey can help young people the way it helped him.

When Sasakamoose, a well-respected Cree Elder, heard that four young people caused almost $100,000 in damage by vandalizing part of the Ahtahkakoop Cree Nation, he thought they should be helped instead of punished.

He believed they were in need of support and guidance – and some help to get into hockey.

“Most of these kids come from single parent homes and have it very difficult. It’s hard for them to get equipment,” Sasakamoose says.

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Fred Sasakamoose, (right) stands in front of four bags of donated hockey equipment, with granddaughter Tishema Tootoosis, a HART program cultural coordinator. (Photo courtesy of Shinoa Young)

So four bags of hockey equipment were donated recently at the annual Fred Sasakamoose Puck Drop at the Cooperators Centre for the Ehrlo Outdoor Hockey League, and a feast followed the next day at the University of Regina.

The University of Regina has assisted Sasakamoose by supporting the annual Fred Sasakamoose Aboriginal Youth Leadership and Wellness Program. The program encourages leadership and development of youth through sport, recreation and health. The next program takes place at the U of R in May.

Sasakamoose, who’s from the Ahtahkakoop Cree Nation, is 82 years old and a residential school survivor. He says hockey helped him cope with the effects of residential school trauma – and he hopes hockey can also help young people today who need some extra support.

“I hoped hockey would change my life for the better – and it did. I’ve had a good life because of hockey. I owe it to the people. I owe it to the kids. I think they need hockey – just like I did.”

The Ranch Ehrlo Sport Venture program donated four bags of hockey equipment to Sasakamoose in an effort to expand aspects of the Health Advocacy and Research Training program (HART) and the Fred Sasakamoose Aboriginal Youth Leadership and Wellness program into Ahtahkakoop First Nation.

“The donation is going to be seen as a proactive approach to helping our First Nations children pursue a more positive lifestyle,” said Tishema Tootoosis, Sasakamoose’s granddaughter and HART program coordinator from the Poundmaker Cree Nation.

“I’m very honoured to support this venture for my grandfather. He has always taught us to keep fighting for what you believe in and to go beyond your limits to help others,” she adds.

“The overall purpose of this program is to utilize strengths-based interventions to promote healthier relationships and develop youth leadership skills in the area of health advocacy in order to increase youth engagement, connectedness, and overall well-being,” explains Dr. JoLee Sasakamoose, an assistant professor in the faculty of education and an Indigenous Peoples' Health Research Centre (IPHRC) research affiliate, and Fred’s daughter.  

Fred Sasakamoose says “I’m so excited about giving back. It’s my dream to fulfill their dream. The kids, they’re the most important thing.”