Success and service: Indigenous athletes make indelible mark on province

National Indigenous People’s Day is on June 21. In the spirit of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s 87th Call to Action, the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame marks this day by celebrating Indigenous excellence and achievement in sport. In doing so, the SSHF also looks to put a spotlight on the challenges and hardships that the SSHF’s Indigenous inductees overcame in achieving their goals.

The SSHF currently has nine individual inductees who identify as Indigenous. Each has a unique story, but service to community and success over hardship are common themes with each athlete or builder.

Paul Acoose was from the Zagime Anishinabek (Sakimay) First Nation and came from a long line of distance runners. His competitive career was short, but he set a world record and defeated famed distance runner Tom Longboat before returning home to farm and raise a family.

Tony Cote had a lasting impact on the Cote First Nation where he created numerous athletic opportunities for young people. Those athletic opportunities extended across the province when he created the first Saskatchewan First Nations Summer Games in 1974. There is now a distinct Summer and Winter Games and they have both been named after Cote in his honour. Cote became Chief of the Cote First Nation also served during the Korean War.

Alex Decoteau

Alex Decoteau

Alex Decoteau has the distinction of being the first athlete born in what is now known as Saskatchewan to compete at the Olympic Games. Decoteau, from the Red Pheasant Cree Nation, finished sixth in the 5,000-metre run at the 1912 Stockholm Games despite suffering from leg cramps. He would also become the first Indigenous police officer in Canada and was killed serving in the Canadian Expeditionary Force in 1917 during the First World War.

David Greyeyes was another SSHF Indigenous inductee who served in the military. Greyeyes served in the Canadian Army during the Second World War. While overseas, the gifted soccer player, was a member of the Canadian team that won the Inter-Allied Games in 1946. He was chosen to represent Saskatchewan against top touring English teams in 1937, 1938 and 1949 – a testament to his longevity as a top player.

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

Jacqueline Lavallee was a two-sport star at the University of Saskatchewan where she was a Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) All-Canadian in both soccer and basketball. She played for Canada at the World University Games twice and was a member of the women’s national basketball team for three years. She has been an assistant women’s basketball coach at the U of S for 14 seasons.

Jim Neilson was born in Big River, but grew up in an orphanage in Prince Albert. From those humble beginnings he would go on to play more than 1,000 games in the National Hockey League (NHL). Neilson spent 12 of his 16 years in the NHL with the New York Rangers where he played in a two NHL All-Star Games and finished fourth in voting for the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s best defenceman in 1968. He finished his career in 1979 playing alongside Wayne Gretzky during his rookie season in Edmonton.

Claude Petit also served in the Canadian Army during the Korean War and he too would compete athletically while serving overseas. Petit was a five-time Canadian Army heavyweight boxing champion and was also the only Canadian to win the British Army Heavyweight title. Inducted as a builder, Petit coached Team Canada at international competitions, worked as an official for several years and served nine years as president of the Saskatchewan Boxing Association.

Fred Sasakamoose was born in the Ahtahkakoop Cree Nation, but was taken from his family when he was six and suffered abuse at the St. Michael’s Residential School. Sasakamoose managed to thrive as a hockey player, being named the Most Valuable Player in the Western Canada Junior Hockey League. He made his debut in the NHL with Chicago in 1953-54 at the age of 19. His NHL career lasted 11 games, but his story had an enduring impact. Sasakamoose became an important community leader and served as Chief for six years. He reclaimed his language, becoming fluent in Cree later in life and worked to promote and develop sport programs for youth including the Fred Sasakamoose “Chief Thunderstick” Championship. In 2018 he was made a member of the Order of Canada.

 Bryan Trottier is one of the most successful hockey players to come from Saskatchewan. He has won six Stanley Cups, the most of anyone in the province. Trottier scored 524 goals and had 1,425 points in 1,279 NHL regular-season games. He was also played in eight All-Star Games. The Hockey Hall of Famer wrote on the NHL website about his youth in Val Marie.

Kenneth Moore is inducted as a member of the 1930 Memorial Cup-champion Regina Pats hockey team. Moore would go on to win an Olympic gold medal in 1932 with a team based out of Winnipeg. Moore, from the Peepeekisis Cree Nation, is believed to be the first Indigenous person to win a gold medal for Canada. There is an excellent account of the toll the Residential School system had on the Moore family and how Kenneth’s parents were able to escape and spare him the same horrors that befell some of his siblings.

Colette Bourgonje won’t formally be inducted as a member of the Hall of Fame until the SSHF Induction Ceremony and Dinner on September 24, 2022. For the past two years she has been sharing her inspiring story as part of the SSHF’s award-winning Never Give Up educational program. A 10-time Paralympian, Bourgonje was the first Canadian to compete in both a Summer and Winter Paralympics. Eighteen years after her Paralympic debut she won Canada’s first medal at the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games in Vancouver.

The Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame is proud to be located in Treaty 4 territory, home to the Cree, Dakota, Lakota, Nakoda, and Saulteaux people since time immemorial and are the traditional homelands of the Métis Nation. The Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame also celebrates the history of sport and the people from the land that is covered by Treaties 2, 4, 5, 6, 8 and 10. These lands have been the home of the Cree, Dakota, Dene, Lakota, Nakoda, and Saulteaux people since time immemorial and are the traditional homelands of the Métis Nation.

While National Indigenous People’s Day is an ideal time to celebrate and share these stories and resources, reconciliation is an ongoing process.

This spring, the Hall of Fame completed and began offering our Indigenous Legacies in Sport outreach program that is offered to schools. It is geared towards elementary school students and highlights some of the achievements and stories of Saskatchewan’s great Indigenous athletes and builders.

The Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame and the University of Saskatchewan have partnered on a display case and video kiosk celebrating Saskatchewan Indigenous athletes and their achievements. This exhibit is on permanent display in the Physical Activity Complex at the University of Saskatchewan’s College of Kinesiology in Saskatoon.

Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame has created an incredible new resource for learning about Canada’s great Indigenous athletes. The Indigenous Sport Heroes Education Experience is a first-of-its-kind educational program that was designed to provide educators with the opportunity to integrate Indigenous perspectives and ways of knowing and being into their classrooms.

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 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


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.