In their own words: the stories of great Saskatchewan Indigenous athletes

February is Indigenous Storytelling Month in Saskatchewan. To celebrate this month, the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame is sharing some of the stories of some of the pioneering Indigenous athletes in the province – in their own words as much as possible.

Tony Cote was inducted into the SSHF as a builder in 2011. He was first elected as Chief of the Cote First Nation in 1970. In 1974 he was instrumental in the creation of the Saskatchewan First Nations Summer Games. They would grow to include a Winter Games and now both the Summer and Winter Games bear his name.

In an article from 2014 in the Regina Leader-Post, Cote described what motivated him to create the first Saskatchewan First Nations Summer Games.

Tony Cote

Tony Cote

“There wasn’t too much sports and recreation on any given reserve (when he started the provincial Games). I thought if we initiated some kind of Summer Games we would get the interest of the young people to participate with the other bands across Saskatchewan. The response was very, very good. I think the first year we attracted 500 athletes. The last one we had in Prince Albert (in 2013) I think we had 3,500 athletes. The participation of our young people has really grown tremendously.

“As a result, we always develop some very good athletes.

“One of these days we’re going to have a number of our own athletes participate in the Olympics. That was my vision to begin with. It’s slowly coming.”

Even for those athletes who don’t end up on the world’s stage, taking part in the Tony Cote Games or the North American Indigenous Games can have a lifelong impact.

“It opens (people’s) eyes. The atmosphere is terrific. You can tell they’re proud and they want to compete. As a result, a lot of the former athletes that participated 10, 12 or even 20 years ago, those are our recreation leaders now. Not only recreation leaders but some of them have become leaders of their communities in the capacity of chief and councillors.

“When I first came home to start sports and recreation (in Saskatchewan) there was absolutely nothing. All our kids were just getting into trouble. When we started training them (the outlook improved).

“We’ve come a long ways.”

Ken Moore

Ken Moore was the first Indigenous person to win a gold medal for Canada when he was part of the 1932 men’s hockey team that won gold in Lake Placid in the United States. Moore has been inducted into the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame as a member of the 1930 Memorial Cup champion Regina Pats team.

Before those great feats though, Moore and his family escaped their home in the Peepeekeesis Cree Nation and avoided the Indian agent to start a new life and keep any more of their children from being forced to attend Residential School. The Moores’ two oldest sons both died at the Brandon Indian Residential School in Manitoba.

Moore’s granddaughter, Jennifer Moore Rattray, helps tell his incredible story here.

Alex Decoteau died during the Second Battle of Passchendaele in 1917 during the First World War. Though his life was cut tragically short, the distance runner from Red Pheasant First Nation achieved so much. He was the first athlete born in what is now Saskatchewan to compete at the Olympics. He is also the first Indigenous person to be a police officer in Canada.

Independent Indigenous publication Windspeaker.com in Edmonton shared Alex’s story here.

Jim Neilson moved to an orphanage in Prince Albert at the age of five and he become one of the best defencemen in the National Hockey League in the 1970s and played more than 1,000 games in the league. You can read more about his inspiring story here.

Fred Sasakamoose, left, shakes hands with Chicago Blackhawks captain Alexei Zhamnov.

Fred Sasakamoose was taken from his family on the Ahtahkakoop Cree First Nation and sent to St. Michael’s Residential School in Duck Lake. There Sasakamoose suffered terrible abuse that he detailed in the Truth & Reconciliation Commission and later in his autobiography.

He returned home at 15 and never wanted to leave. His hockey talents led him to Moose Jaw – where two weeks into his stay he tried to walk the 400 km home – where he became the Most Valuable Player in the Western Canadian Junior Hockey League in 1953-54. Immediately at the end of the season, the 20-year-old reported to the NHL’s Chicago Black Hawks where he would play 11 games. Despite his talent and early success, the pull of coming home never left.

“I wanted to go home all the time,” Sasakamoose said in this article from 2018. “You’re no longer 500 miles away — you are 5,000 miles away. It didn’t matter about money, glory… It didn’t matter. I didn’t want that. I wanted home.”

Paul Acoose was Nakawē (Saulteaux) from the Zagime Anishinabek (previously known as the Sakimay First Nation) and was born in 1885. 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. Despite only being 24 years old, Acoose retired from competitive racing and settled in Zagime Anishinabek with his wife Madeline where they raised nine children and farmed. He never drove a car and continued to job into his 60s. Even in his late 70s would walk up to 10 kilometers to visit family and friends.

Bryan Trottier won six Stanley Cups and was a cornerstone of the New York Islanders dynasty. The Hockey Hall of Famer wrote on the NHL website about his youth in Val Marie.

“I don’t know how big an inspiration I am for indigenous children, but I want to wear it with all my might. There’s a certain pride I think we all have in where and how we grow up and our heritage. There’s a lot of variety in First Nation; it’s a very diverse group. Some of them feel self-conscious about the blend they have, that maybe they’re not 100 percent First Nation. But they have the bloodlines, and they’re very creative and they’re very athletic and talented. They all have the ability to make a difference, and I tell them it’s OK to be homesick but to remember it takes courage to live your dreams.”

 

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.