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Publisher's Summary

"Fred Sasakamoose played in the NHL before First Nations people had the right to vote in Canada. This page turner will have you cheering for 'Fast Freddy' as he faces off against huge challenges both on and off the ice - a great gift to every proud hockey fan, Canadian, and Indigenous person." (Wab Kinew, Leader of the Manitoba NDP and author of The Reason You Walk)

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 12 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 councilor, 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.

©2021 Fred Sasakamoose and Bryan Trottier (P)2021 Viking

What the critics say

“Fred Sasakamoose played in the NHL before First Nations people had the right to vote in Canada. This page turner will have you cheering for 'Fast Freddy' as he faces off against huge challenges both on and off the ice - a great gift to every proud hockey fan, Canadian, and Indigenous person.” (Wab Kinew, leader of the Manitoba NDP and author of The Reason You Walk)
 

 “A heart-wrenching story of survival in the face of injustice and tragedy. In his unflinching memoir, Fred Sasakamoose shares his journey from being a residential school survivor to becoming the NHL’s first Indigenous player - on the arduous road to finding the peace and pride he was long refused. Canada’s pastime and the nation’s darkest sins collide in a beautifully told tale of resilience, passion, and ultimate triumph.” (Dan Robson, best-selling author of Quinn: The Life of a Hockey Legend)

“Fred Sasakamoose is an icon. Any Indigenous hockey player skates in his footsteps. His trailblazing hockey career has been well-documented in recent decades, and now, his riveting life story has been published in his own words. Call Me Indian is a powerfully essential account of Sasakamoose’s journey, from his Cree upbringing on the land to the bright lights of NHL arenas. His voice throughout is candid, heartfelt, and astute, as he reveals the triumphs and tragedies of his life. Sasakamoose’s resilience and dedication to his family, his people, and the game of hockey is nothing short of awesome, despite the brutality he endured at residential school and the racism that followed him on the ice and beyond. Call Me Indian is an inspiring and enlightening saga that’s a must-read for Indigenous communities, hockey fans, and all Canadians.” (Waubgeshig Rice, author of Moon of the Crusted Snow

What listeners say about Call Me Indian

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  • 2021-05-27

Reviewing “Call Me Indian” as an Indian

When people think of Native American/First Nations athletes they consider two of the great gold medalists - Jim Thorpe and Billy Mills. Hardly does one have the honorable privilege to learn of Cree hockey legend Fred Saskamoose, the first Indigenous hockey player in the NHL [Chicago Blackhawks.]

I like how Fred begins his story plainly stating, “Call me Indian.” Acknowledging the gravity of that labels affect upon his life personally and upon the greater community of Indians. Fred does not condone the usage of the “Indian“ term for non Indians. As you listen to his story you will learn that he like many others were forced to wear this label like a cloak to diminish what lies beneath - a human being but also a proud member of the Cree community.

Fred Saskamoose was a skillful hockey player of Debden, Saskatchewan and grew up on the Ahtahkakoop Indian Reserve in Saskatchewan. And a Survivor from the Duck Lake, Saskatchewan Catholic residential school. He survived a time when Indigenous children were being ripped from their families at the age as young as 5 years old. had heard horror stories of the Catholic residential schools but there were some things that I learned from this story: like kids were only ALLOWED to return to their families after two years spent at the residential school. So if a child was stolen at the age of 5 they could not even visit home until 7. Also, I knew of the beatings and sexual abuse but didn’t know that Indian children were essentially slaves serving not just the church grounds but were farmed out into the community; Fred alluded to intensive labor physically toughening him up to play hockey at a high level an attribute gained and recognized by the young priest at his residential school who would become his first and maybe his most fearsome coach. I learned that kids could attempt to escape only to be snitched on by townsfolk who were rewarded for turning in Indian children as runaways. Fred and his brother did attempt escape after a particularly tragic episode in his life that I am sure would have a tragically profound effect upon Fred’s life.

My favorite part of the story is hearing how Fred felt when he was called up to the big leagues as he arrived in Chicago - seeing all the skyscrapers, smelling the air, and how he was approached by people in this foreign world to a 1950s Indian. In this world he was only referred to as , “Chief” never as Fred. From the beginning he was treated as a spectacle by the whites and a trail blazer for Indians. He was rightfully adored by his community.

I loved hearing the voice of Fred the hockey fan making his way in the big city even though it was fleeting. Although it was jarring to learn that the Blackhawks paid him indirectly through a 3rd party like a sponsor who signed his contract with Fred. Fred seems to gloss over this occurrence but I think that this dehumanizing act had a greater impact on Fred than he lets on.

I can best describe Fred’s story as a beautiful tragedy. Being an Indian myself this story was familiar. Ironically (or not) as I write this story, First Nations hockey players are in the NHL doing great things on the Ice. But just last week Ethan Bear and the NHL had to make a statement denouncing racist remarks directed towards Ethan of the Edmonton Oilers and a Cree nonetheless. I think the NHL should strongly encourage the reading or listening of “Call Me Indian”. Maybe then the hockey world would KNOW we Indians BELONG!