Saskatoon statue will honour Indigenous NHL trailblazer Fred Sasakamoose
Sasakamoose, who died last November, was the first person with treaty status to play in the NHL
The family of Fred Sasakamoose is proud that a statue of the groundbreaking NHL player has been commissioned and may take a place of honour at SaskTel Centre.
The Saskatchewan-born Sasakamoose was the first person with treaty status to play in the league, and eventually went on to become chief of the Ahtahkakoop Cree Nation, northwest of Prince Albert, Sask.
The former NHL player died last November, after contracting COVID-19 at the age of 86.
His family said the honour was bittersweet, but they're happy to see him remembered.
"For me personally, I will have a place that I can go," said Sasakamoose's son, Neil.
"I can go see him."
Soon after Fred's death last year, the family was approached by Saskatoon city councillor Troy Davies, who wanted to honour the hockey legend. Davies enlisted the help of the Battlefords Agency Tribal Chiefs, as well as the Dakota Dunes Community Development, to raise $180,000 to build the approximately 2.5-metre-tall statue.
Neil said that his father touched many people's lives, and that the family was flooded by calls from people across the country after his death.
"I think no one comes close to him in terms of building relationships between First Nations and non-First Nations people," he said.
"He truly believed in that. And it was really evident in the outpouring for the last three, four months."
WATCH: Fred Sasakamoose discusses his NHL draft in 2014 interview:
Fred rarely spoke about his many accomplishments, which included developing minor hockey and other sports programs across Saskatchewan. He was inducted into the Order of Canada in 2018.
"We're taught that other people are supposed to talk about you and they're supposed to honour you," said his son.
"When you do it yourself, you could be looked at as a braggart or someone with a swollen head."
Neil said the last few months have been very difficult for the family. After contracting COVID-19, his father died alone in hospital, with only phone contact with his loved ones.
As well, the family was only allowed two hours with Fred's body before the burial, making the grieving process difficult.
"In our culture, there's a wake service and people gather and give you a rub on the back, just to let them know that you're here and that there's a lot of us thinking about you guys," he said.
"That never happened."
While the statue isn't expected to be completed for months, Fred Sasakamoose's memoir, Call Me Indian, is expected to be released next month, along with a dedication ceremony.
"Now there's a place, there's a story, there's a book for him," Neil said. "And there's a statue of him that I'll be able to see."
Saskatoon city administration is proposing the statue of Sasakamoose be placed outside of the main entrance of SaskTel Centre, across from the statue of fellow hockey great Gordie Howe.
Councillors will discuss the proposal at a committee meeting on Monday.