Call Me Indian: From the Trauma of Residential School to Becoming the NHL’s First Treaty Indigenous Player by Fred Sasakamoose, Bryan Trottier (foreword) Narrated by Wilton Littlechild
Published May 18th 2021 by Viking
About the Book: Fred Sasakamoose played in the NHL before First Nations people had the right to vote in Canada. This pause-resister will have you cheering for ‘Fast Freddy’ as he faces off against huge challenges both on and off the ice.
Trailblazer. Residential school Survivor. First Treaty Indigenous player in the NHL. All of these descriptions are true – but none of them tell the whole story.
Fred Sasakamoose, torn from his home at the age of seven, endured the horrors of residential school for a decade before becoming one of 120 players in the most elite hockey league in the world. He has been heralded as the first Indigenous player with Treaty status in the NHL, making his official debut as a 1954 Chicago Black Hawks player on ‘Hockey Night in Canada’ and teaching Foster Hewitt how to pronounce his name. Sasakamoose played against such legends as Gordie Howe, Jean Beliveau, and Maurice Richard. After twelve games, he returned home.
When people tell Sasakamoose’s story, this is usually where they end it. They say he left the NHL to return to the family and culture that the Canadian government had ripped away from him. That returning to his family and home was more important to him than an NHL career. But there was much more to his decision than that. Understanding Sasakamoose’s choice means acknowledging the dislocation and treatment of generations of Indigenous peoples. It means considering how a man who spent his childhood as a ward of the government would hear those supposedly golden words: You are Black Hawks property.
Sasakamoose’s story was far from over once his NHL days concluded. He continued to play for another decade in leagues around Western Canada. He became a band councillor, served as Chief, and established athletic programs for kids. He paved a way for youth to find solace and meaning in sports for generations to come. Yet, threaded through these impressive accomplishments were periods of heartbreak and unimaginable tragedy – as well moments of passion and great joy.
This isn’t just a hockey story; Sasakamoose’s groundbreaking memoir sheds piercing light on Canadian history and Indigenous politics, and follows this extraordinary man’s journey to reclaim pride in an identity and a heritage that had previously been used against him.
5 Stars: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
I have to say that it is difficult to rate a personal memoir. It is someone’s story, how dare I critique it. I have rated this story based on it’s readability, interest, and the ability to make me feel something for the author and all the others he represents.
With all the news about Residential Schools in the news right now, I wanted to know more. Not only are there bodies found buried, but there are survivors and the children/grandchildren of survivors that are still dealing with the after effects of the legacy of residential schools. When I saw this book by Fred Sasakamoose, I knew I wanted to read it. I am also a huge hockey fan, so I wanted to know what it was like for him to be the first Indigenous Player in the NHL. How was he treated? What did he need to overcome? Well, I will tell you that everyone should read of listen to this book. It is important to listen and try to understand these things so Indigenous People can move forward, begin to heal and know that we are trying to build bridges to reconciliation. These stories are a first step to bring some of that understanding.
Fred Sasakamoose begins his memoir with the story of his ancestors who lived on the land before European contact. He tells of how their leader, Ahtahkakoop, was manipulated into signing treaties that were never kept. Thus begins the first of the lies. His mother was the caregiver as his father was away logging and trapping. Their lives were limited by the local White Indian Agent and federal laws. They were a poor family, but were happy, with a home full of music, dancing, and love. His grandfather, Moosum Alexan came to live with them, and he bought Fred his first pair of skates. They spent hours on the pond skating and learning to play hockey. Fred’s father was Catholic, so in 1941, he and his younger brother were taken to St. Michael’s Catholic Residential School. Fred was seven and his parents had no choice but to let the agents take the boys. Although Fred does not give a lot of details of what happened to him and his brother at the school, St Michaels was more of a work colony than a school. He endured terrible abuses by priests and older boys. The boys were not allowed home until they acclimated, two years. Father Roussel, was a hockey fanatic and organized the boys into a team. This is where Fred continued to develop his hockey skills begun with his Moosum. To get out of the residential schools, he was “drafted” by the Moose Jaw Canucks in the Western Canadian Junior Hockey League. He continued to develop as a player but he had scars and was not treated well. I am not going to tell you anymore about the story at this point, because it is important that you read this book. The rest of Fred’s story follows his path to the NHL, his marriage, and his path to become a mentor, but all is molded by his earlier treatment at St. Michael’s.
This book was published after Fred’s death which occurred during the Covid Pandemic. He wrote this story with the support of his son and many hockey personalities. Fred was an excellent story teller, and it shows in this book. I was drawn in from the beginning and that interest didn’t wane until the end. This is his personal story, but it is also the story of many Indigenous People. They may not have made it to the NHL, but they have had problems with addiction, depression, mental health, abuse etc. as a result of their earlier experiences. The ramifications of anti-Indigenous laws and racist attitudes of those in power are still having an effect today. I did a read/listen of this book which was a great way to experience Fred’s story. Wilton Littlechild was a perfect narrator for this book and made it feel like I was listening to Fred Sasakamoose sharing his story with me. When I needed to double check anything, I was able to refer to the book and find what I was looking for. I recommend this book to all who are trying to understand and support reconciliation with our Indigenous People in North America.