'A great visionary': Sask. sporting legend Tony Cote dies aged 84

Saskatchewan sporting legend Tony Cote, whose legacies include increasing First Nations athlete participation across the province, died on July 31 at the age of 84. 

Cote founded Saskatchewan's summer and winter games for First Nations youth

After serving in the Korean War, Tony Cote returned to his community and recognized the athletic talent of the youth. (Brad Bellegarde/CBC)

Saskatchewan sporting legend Tony Cote, who is credited with increasing First Nations athlete participation across the province, died on July 31 at the age of 84. 

Just a few weeks before his death, Cote attended the Flying Dust First Nation 2019 Tony Cote Summer Games, which he founded more than 40 years earlier. 

"He was a great visionary for First Nations young people," said a Facebook page for the games on Wednesday. 

Born Antoine Cote at the Cote First Nation, he was later elected chief in 1970. 

According to the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame, his achievements include starting one of the first hockey arenas in Saskatchewan First Nations and establishing the first all-Indigenous Junior "B" hockey team in Saskatchewan. 

In 1974, he founded the Saskatchewan First Nations Summer Games, and later the Winter Games, which are open to First Nations coaches and athletes across Saskatchewan. 

The Tony Cote Summer Games, held every other summer in Indigenous communities around Saskatchewan, were held at the Flying Dust First Nation just outside of Meadow Lake earlier this month. (Flying Dust First Nation 2019 Tony Cote Summer Games/Facebook)

"I knew we had a lot of good athletes but nobody was following up on them," Cote told CBC in an interview last year.

"I always encourage them to go higher and look even at the Olympics, I used to tell [the athletes]."

Cadmus Delorme, Chief of the Cowessess First Nation, said he knew Cote well. 

They met at the First Nations University of Canada in Regina, where Delorme said Cote would sit in the kiosk at the First Nations Veterans Memorial Tipi and share with students his knowledge about Indigenous issues such as treaties. 

Delorme said he appreciated Cote's humbleness, confidence and "cheekiness." 

"When you meet Tony Cote you can just tell in his face the integrity that he stands by," said Delorme. 

He said his friend's contributions to sports through the summer and winter games have touched the lives of thousands of people. 

Earlier this month, Delorme said Cote received thanks at the event that bears his name: the Tony Cote Summer Games. 

"It was so uplifting just to see him there and he stood up and we all acknowledged him," said Delorme.

Cote loved to laugh and to see people succeed, Delorme added.

"Every time we see somebody succeed let's give them praise because that's what Tony would have done and that's the legacy that I would like to share of what Tony's going to leave for us today," he said. 

Cote was also a veteran of the Korean War, having served in the 25th Infantry Brigade in the 81st Field Regiment of the Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery.

Of his time in the Korean War, Cote told CBC that his most vivid memories are of three nights spent firing artillery guns in support of another regiment. 

On one of those nights he suffered a permanent shoulder injury. But when he returned to Canada, he said his post-war benefits had to be provided through the Department of Indian Affairs — not the department of Veterans affairs that handled benefits for other soldiers.     

"When we donned our uniforms off and were demobilized we were sent back to the reserves to be good little Indians again," said Cote.  

"We fought dictatorship only to return to dictatorship on the home reserves, the Indian agent had total control." 

Cote was also a recipient of the Saskatchewan Order of Merit.

With files from The Afternoon Edition