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Fred Sasakamoose Day offers chance to honour Indigenous hockey icon’s life, legacy

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WATCH: May 18 has been proclaimed Fred Sasakamoose Day across Saskatchewan and a special ceremony took place in Saskatoon to mark the occasion – May 18, 2021

One of Saskatchewan’s Indigenous icons now has his own special day.

May 18 has officially been proclaimed Fred Sasakamoose Day by both the provincial government and the City of Saskatoon, and on Tuesday, friends and relatives of the late hockey pioneer took part in a special ceremony at SaskTel Centre to mark the occasion.

Sasakamoose is one of the first Indigenous players to make it to the National Hockey League. He died last November at the age of 86 due to COVID-19.

Nearly six months later, the day dedicated in his honour offered a chance to celebrate the life and legacy of the man affectionately known as ‘Chief Thunderstick.’

“When people make an impact in our communities, in our families, in our province, in our country, in the world, their names live forever. Fred may be gone, but his name is going to live forever,” said Tribal Chief Mark Arcand of the Saskatoon Tribal Council.

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Read more: Fred Sasakamoose leaves lasting legacy as Indigenous hockey pioneer

Tuesday’s ceremony, which was livestreamed online, was also the first chance for many of Sasakamoose’s friends and family members to mourn his death together.

Due to the pandemic, there were strict limitations on the number of people that could attend his funeral, and although attendance Tuesday was still capped at 30 people, the ceremony provided some much-needed closure.

Loretta Sasakamoose, Fred’s wife of 65 years, was happy to see Chiefs and other representatives of several Saskatchewan First Nations in attendance.

“Look at the headdresses, how beautiful they are. Our elders, I’m so happy to see them. I know most of them. It’s too bad my family could not all be here but that’s all right. This is good, the way it is,” she told the audience.

A book about Sasakamoose’s journey from the residential school system to the NHL, Call Me Indian, is now on store shelves. His grandson Zaine Michael, whose interviews of Sasakamoose serve as the book’s foundation, was also in attendance.

“Don’t take for granted the opportunity to say hello to your grandpa or your grandma because when they’re gone, they’re gone. When I finished asking my grandpa and listening to his life story, I appreciated his story more and more when we buried him,” Michael said.

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Sasakamoose’s legacy will also live on in a statue that will be installed this fall outside SaskTel Centre, next to that of another hockey legend whom the Ahtahkakoop Cree Nation product looked up to.

“(The statue) will be out there right beside Gordie Howe, which to me is just so awesome. To have these heroes of hockey, two heroes from our community, from our province side by side as an inspiration to every young person who walks through the doors,” Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark said.

Between the book, the statue and the proclamation of Fred Sasakamoose Day, the hockey pioneer’s legacy is sure to live on for generations to come.

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