Fred Sasakamoose: A Triumph of Braveness and Grace

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From the second Fred Sasakamoose arrived on the Victoria Union Hospital in Prince Albert final Friday with a suspected case of COVID-19, he was adamant about how he needed to be handled if issues went badly. There could be no ventilators, no resuscitation. Together with his 87th birthday looming on Christmas Day, he was robust, each bodily and in his beliefs, and he was both leaving the hospital on his personal or by no means.“He mentioned, ‘If I don’t stroll out of right here, I don’t wish to be cared for, I don’t wish to be taken care of,” mentioned his son Neil Sasakamoose. “ ‘I don’t wish to endure and I don’t wish to be in a nook simply prolonging my ache.’ He mentioned, ‘I’m 86 years previous and I’ve lived a full life.’ ”As Sasakamoose’s situation deteriorated after receiving a constructive analysis on the weekend, the household was instructed to organize for the worst. And when Neil spoke to his father on the telephone Tuesday afternoon, he knew the top was close to. “He simply instructed me, ‘I’m able to go,’ ” Neil mentioned. “I requested him if there have been folks round him. Within the Plains Cree tradition, whenever you’re passing folks will come to get you. He mentioned, ‘Sure, there are folks in my room and there are people who find themselves stopping by. I can see them within the window once I look outdoors.’ I mentioned, ‘Look, Dad, you go. Don’t fear about something right here. You go.’ ”Fred Sasakamoose died one hour later. It ought to shock nobody that Fred Sasakamoose confronted loss of life with such braveness and stoicism, as a result of these have been his hallmarks. Hockey followers would in all probability assume that Sasakamoose’s most important accomplishment was turning into the primary Treaty Indigenous participant in historical past to play within the NHL when he appeared in 11 video games for the Chicago Blackhawks in 1953-54.Not even shut. It was what Sasakamoose did after his taking part in days that made him such an icon. He returned to the Ahtahkakoop Indian Reserve in Northern Saskatchewan and have become a beneficial mentor and function mannequin for his folks. He overcame his habit to alcohol in 1980 when he determined to run for chief of the Ahtahkakoop Cree Nation and had not had a drink since. He labored with the younger folks of Ahtahkakoop, coaching younger native hockey gamers on the ice floor of the Fred Sasakamoose Rec Centre a few occasions per week. He was a revered of Elder in his group and a senator within the First Nations system of governance. He and his spouse raised 9 kids.However Sasakamoose’s most beautiful triumph and his most important contribution to his folks got here in 2013 when he summoned all his resolve to talk candidly in regards to the horrors he skilled on the St. Michael’s Indian Residential Faculty in Duck Lake to the Canadian authorities’s Reality and Reconciliation Fee. On the age of 79, Sasakamoose instructed the fee how he and one other boy have been raped by an older scholar on the faculty and the way he had coal oil poured over his head when he tried to flee. The residential boarding colleges that have been funded by the Canadian authorities and operated by Christian church buildings marked certainly one of Canada’s darkest occasions in its historical past. Lots of of hundreds of Indigenous kids have been taken from their dad and mom and positioned within the colleges with the intention of serving to them assimilate. However it was truly cultural genocide. Unofficial estimates declare that as much as 50,000 kids died in residential colleges, the final of which was closed within the 1980s. As Sasakamoose instructed his story, tears streamed down his face. However he mentioned doing it additionally launched an infinite quantity of ache he had been carrying round with him and, extra importantly, gave him the braveness to forgive.“You cry, you cry,” Sasakamoose instructed The Hockey Information in 2014. “Give me my childhood again. I needed my Mother and Dad. I needed somebody to hug me. And I by no means acquired that.”He began taking part in on the outside pond on the reserve, the place his grandfather would assault bob skates to his moccasins and reduce down a willow to kind a hockey stick. However it was at Duck Lake the place Sasakamoose turned a prodigious hockey participant, typically buying and selling the dessert they acquired on the weekends in change for utilizing a pair of skates for an hour. He acquired so good that in February of 1954, he was summoned to the Blackhawks from the Moose Jaw Canucks on the age of 20. However the mixture of his private demons and struggles with alcohol and excessive homesickness prevented him from absolutely exploiting his skills. He as soon as mentioned he may by no means reconcile taking part in professional hockey whereas his spouse and youngsters have been again on the reserve with no electrical energy or operating water.“(One) day I used to be watching a present on (Native American) Jim Thorpe, the best athlete who ever lived,” Sasakamoose instructed THN. “Then I have a look at myself and say, ‘The place did I find yourself?’ The God-given expertise I had was a waste, a failure to my folks. I may have been higher. I may have completed higher.”Fred Sasakamoose did lots fantastic. He performed 11 video games in the perfect league on the planet when there have been solely 120 jobs out there. He served his folks with distinction and he blazed a path for others to observe alongside. The day earlier than Sasakamoose was admitted to hospital, the ultimate edits have been accomplished on Name Me Indian, his memoir that will probably be out there in April. Lower than a month in the past, he obtained an honorary Physician of Legal guidelines from the College of Saskatchewan. He was inducted into the Saskatchewan Sports activities Corridor of Fame in 2007 and was named to the Order of Canada in 2018.Per week earlier than he died, the prairies obtained and early winter snowstorm and there’s video of Fred Sasakamoose on his quad plowing snow. In his hospital room, he needed to maneuver the way in which he did at house, touching each side of the wall in his room 100 occasions. “He didn’t wish to lay down,” Neil Sasakamoose mentioned. “He laid down at 2 o’clock (on Tuesday) and that was it. Fifteen minutes later, he was gone.”

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