Fred Sasakamoose’s autobiography, Call Me Indian, tracks the life of an inspirational Nēhiyaw (Cree) man who became the first First Nations hockey player for the NHL. Fred’s story takes the audience on a roller coaster ride of highs and lows. One moment we are cheering for him, and in the next we are flinching when things go very wrong.
Fred learned the game as a young child with a whittled stick and a frozen cow paddy puck. Before long, he, like many other Native children, was taken with his brother to the St. Michael’s Residential School in Duck Lake, Sask., where he found a way to take up the sport. Perseverance, vigor, and enthusiasm attracted the right mentors to show him the way and help him make the right connections, leading him to play for the Chicago Blackhawks. He never forgot the hockey maneuvers his grandfather, Alexan, taught him on a frozen lake. Fred was unbeatable while playing for his school, and again later, while playing in the junior league.
Eventually, shadows of racism fell upon him, but he never gave up. With his parents cheering him on to learn his way in the world of the mōniyās (white man), Fred stayed away from his home community of Sandy Lake even when he wanted to return home. At last, the call to be with his wife and family urged him to walk away, and he turned to coaching.
Spending long hours on the ice, Sasakamoose became a hero promoting hockey to young Indigenous boys, urging them to choose a better way. He was twice made honorary chief and once the real chief of what was then Sandy Lake, and then again as a councilor for his home reserve. He did many great things, but the thing that spoke most to this fan is that he opened his cabin to people who needed a place to stay during the opioid crisis; he left his fishing gear and chainsaw accessible for whoever needed to catch a fish and start a fire.
Fred’s love for the game and his community is truly an inspiration for anyone who just wants a better world. I recommend this book for anyone who loves hockey, Indigenous people, and those who want to read about what real passion and compassion can do. (Penguin Random House Canada)