Indigenous inductees continue to inspire

June 21 is National Indigenous People’s Day. As we come to terms with the uncovering of 751 unmarked graves at the Marieval Indian Residential School on what is now Cowessess First Nation in addition to the remains of 215 children found at the site of the Kamloops Indian Residential School at Tk’emlúps te Secwe̓pemc First Nation, it is clear that there is much to learn and to be reconciled within our history. Given the racist abuse Saskatchewan hockey player Ethan Bear faced online recently, it is evident that even the most accomplished and prominent Indigenous athletes are not spared from overt and public racism.

In the spirit of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s 87th Call to Action, the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame wishes to mark National Indigenous People’s Day and National Indigenous History Month by recalling and celebrating Indigenous excellence and achievement in sport in our province while also sharing some of the hardships and challenges those athletes and builders faced.

Many of our Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame inductees overcame different setbacks, hardships and challenges on their journeys to greatness. However, many of the challenges our Indigenous inductees faced were very specific.

Jacqueline Lavallee and Fred Sasakamoose at the opening of the SSHF’s Indigenous sport exhibit at the University of Saskatchewan.
David Stobbe/StobbePhoto.ca

Fred Sasakamoose overcame horrible abuse in an Indian Residential School to be the most valuable player in the Western Canadian Junior Hockey League and crack a National Hockey League roster when he was 19 with the Chicago Black Hawks in 1953. His career in the NHL lacked in length, it more than made up for in influence. His remarkable journey from Ahtahkakoop Cree Nation to the NHL inspired generations of players.

Jim Neilson was born in Big River and he also overcame challenges as a child, growing up in the St. Patrick’s Orphanage in Prince Albert from the age of five. Despite those humble beginnings, Neilson played more than 1,000 games in the NHL as he blossomed into one of the best defencemen of his era while playing with the New York Rangers. He finished his career playing with a young Wayne Gretzky in Edmonton in the World Hockey Association.

Both Sasakamoose and Neilson passed away this past year, a great loss for their communities and all who knew them.

In the early days of the province, some of Saskatchewan’s top athletes were distance runners and Paul Acoose and Alex Decoteau were amongst the best in the world.

Paul Acoose

Acoose was Nakawē (Saulteaux) from the Zagime Anishinabek (previously known as the Sakimay First Nation). In his first professional race, Acoose ran 15 miles in a world-record time of one hour, 22 minutes and 22 seconds and beat famed English runner Fred Appleby, a former world record holder and 1908 Olympic marathon runner. Acoose’s record-breaking time earned him the title of world champion.

Acoose’s rapid rise to success was met with adversity almost immediately. Appleby and Acoose met in a rematch in Winnipeg where gamblers who had bet on Appleby were suspected of throwing thumbtacks on the indoor track. The tacks did not affect Appleby in his thick rubber-soled shoes, but easily penetrated Acoose’s moccasins and into his feet. Acoose had a half-lap lead when the tacks were thrown onto the track. He pulled a tack out of his foot and carried on – running two more miles in bare feet – before stepping on more tacks and was unable to finish the race.

Acoose went on to beat famed Onondaga runner Tom Longboat in 1910 before retiring from professional racing and returning home to farm and raise a family.

Decoteau was the first Saskatchewan athlete to compete at the Olympic Games when he ran the 5,000-metres and finished sixth in 1912. Decoteau was born in the Red Pheasant Cree Nation and was of Cree and Métis descent. His father was murdered when Decoteau was four years old and he was sent to the Battlefords Industrial School.

Decoteau would become the first Indigenous police officer in Canada and has a park in Edmonton named in his honour. He served in the 202nd Infantry Battalion and the 49th Battalion during the First World War and was killed during the Second Battle of Passchendaele in 1917.

Tony Cote, David Greyeyes, Jacqueline Lavallee, Claude Petit and Bryan Trottier are also SSHF Indigenous inductees. There are also several Indigenous inductees who were enshrined in the Hall of Fame as a member of a championship team.

Each of our Indigenous inductees has their own unique story, but so many share the common themes of success, service and beating the odds to achieve greatness.

We look to continue to share and celebrate their legacies as part of the rich history of Saskatchewan sport. Our exhibit dedicated to our Indigenous inductees and their accomplishments is on permanent display in the Physical Activity Complex at the University of Saskatchewan’s College of Kinesiology.

At the same time, there is always more sport history to discover. If you believe you know of someone deserving of being inducted into the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame as an athlete, builder or as a team; the nomination process is open to the public.

SSHF Honours Inductees Who Served Our Country

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While it is difficult to put this type of gratitude into words, each year on this date, our country does what we can to show our sincere appreciation to those who have given their lives in service of our Nation’s freedom. Here at the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame, we are well aware of what words like dedication, sacrifice and commitment stand for, as it is our mission to recognize those people in sport, who best exemplify what these phrases mean.

On November 11 however, that focus shifts and we pay our respects to those who have committed, dedicated and certainly sacrificed everything, in order to keep Canada among the greatest Nations in the world. In sport, similarities are often drawn to a battle, or fight which exists between two sides. Those conflicts though, pale in comparison to what a select few have experienced, beyond the field of play.

With this piece, we aim to thank these people for everything they have done to serve and better the places we live, work and play. Saskatchewan along with the rest Canada is forever grateful to the service men and women of this country. Everything they do on a daily basis ensures Canada remains, well and truly the north, strong and free.

Robert Adams – Athletics
Calvin Bricker – Athletics
Alex Decoteau – Athletics
William Forsyth – Athletics
Stanley Glover – Athletics
Joe Griffiths – Athletics
Harold Mitchelmore – Athletics
Peter Prediger – Baseball
Stanley ‘Hub’ Gutheridge – Basketball
Anton Glasser – Bowling
Gaston Eichel – Boxing
Ernest ‘Ossie’ Herlen – Boxing
Claude Petit – Boxing
Claude Warwick – Boxing
Eldon Elliot – Broadcasting
Alfred Hill – Curling
H.J. “Pete” Wilken – Curling
Captain Stanley Harrison – Equestrian
Sandy Archer – Football
Dr. Bob Arn – Football
Ken Charlton – Football
Paul Dojack – Football
R.C. ‘Scotty’ Livingston – Football
Neil ‘Piffles’ Taylor – Football
Fred Wilson – Football
Leonard Bath – General
Rollin Henry “Roly” Howes – General
Tom ‘Scotty’ Melville – General
Robert ‘Bobby’ Reid – General
John ‘Jack’ Stewart – General
Edgar ‘Wally’ Stinson – General
George Ward – General
Dr. Jack Leddy – Golf
Dr. Robert Reid – Golf
Tom Ross – Golf
Edward Abbott – Hockey
Garth Boesch – Hockey
Johnny Bower – Hockey
Austin Creswell – Hockey
Frank Foster – Hockey
Norman “Heck” Fowler – Hockey
Frank Germann – Hockey
William ‘Bill’ Griston – Hockey
William ‘Bill’ Hunter – Hockey
Dick Irvin Sr. – Hockey
Gordon Juckes – Hockey
Mike Kartusch – Hockey
Victor Lynn – Hockey
Jack Maddia – Hockey
Charles McCool – Hockey
Frederick McCulloch – Hockey
Ernie McNab – Hockey
Don Metz – Hockey
Nick Metz – Hockey
Stan Obodiac – Hockey
William Beatty Ramsay – Hockey
Chuck Rayner – Hockey
Ed Staniowski – Hockey
Harold ‘Harry’ Watson – Hockey
Al Ritchie – Hockey/Football
Tony Cote – Multi Sport
Joseph Austman – Rifle Shooting
James Harry Girgulis – Shooting
Julien Audette – Soaring
David Greyeyes – Soccer
Robert Van Impe – Softball
Dr. Sam Landa – Sport Medicine
William ‘Bill’ Orban – Sport Medicine
Harry Bailey – Swimming
Bill Ebbels – Tennis
J.B. ‘Kirk’ Kirkpatrick – Tennis
Dr. John Leicester – Tennis
David Ironside Pyle – Wrestling

Lest we forget.