Op-ed: The trailblazers of Indigenous sports in Saskatchewan
- Jeanelle Mandes | June 09, 2018
Throughout the years in this business, I always felt intimidated covering the sports beat. I never thought I knew enough or that I was ‘sporty enough’ to report on sports.
It was up until a few years back when I was the Eagle Feather News summer intern, I was assigned to cover everything about the North American Indigenous Games (NAIG) that were held in Regina. I profiled dozens of NAIG athletes from near and far and continued to research about Indigenous athletes and founders of sport programming in Saskatchewan to expand my knowledge. I learned about how people started from little to nothing to kickstart a program for youth in sports. As years passed, those sport initiatives continue to evolve and excel even to this day.
Last summer, I covered (formerly known as) the Saskatchewan Indian Summer Games in Regina. While conducting interviews with numerous athletes, a thought crossed my mind ‘do these kids know who Tony Cote is?’ So, I threw that question into my interviews. Surprisingly, most of the athletes were clueless. I explained who he is.
Tony Cote from the Cote First Nation is the founder of the Saskatchewan Indian Summer and Winter Games. He held the first Saskatchewan Indian Summer Games in Cote First Nation 1974. Fast-forward forty-three years later, the games were renamed to the Tony Cote Winter/Summer Games last year to honour the sports enthusiast. In the early 70s, Cote established the first all-Native Junior ‘B’ Hockey team in Saskatchewan, managed a women’s fastball team that took them as far as the National Indian Activities Association championships and he formed the first all-Native Old-Timers hockey team called the Wagonburners where they competed in Alberta, New Brunswick and even as far as Florida. Cote has many accomplishments to list that earned him awards to recognize his contributions. He received the Tom Longboat award in 1974 for outstanding sportsman, the Saskatchewan Order of Merit in 2008, he was indicted into the SK Sports Hall of Fame in 2011 and received the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in April 2013. That’s a lengthy list but it begs the question, would Indigenous sports in SK be so popular without Cote’s contributions?
Without a doubt, there are others who dedicate their time to invest into sports for Indigenous youth. For instance, Fred Sasakamoose from Ahtahkakoop Cree Nation is well-known as the first Indigenous hockey player in the NHL playing for the Chicago Blackhawks in 1953-54. He helped form the Northern Indian Hockey League, he established the Fred Sasakamoose All Star Hockey Week and the list goes on. He was acknowledged by being inducted into the Saskatchewan First Nations Sports Hall of Fame, his home community named their arena after him and this month, Sasakamoose will be honoured with the Order of Canada – one of the highest honours in the country that recognizes those who’ve made significant contributions to Canada. Recently, I did an interview with him at the Fred Sasakamoose “Chief Thunderstick” Invitational Hockey Tournament and throughout the interview, he had this smile when he spoke passionately about Indigenous youth and sports. It reminded me when I did a story on his grandson, Landon Sasakamoose, who pushed himself to achieve for greatness in track and field. Landon spoke how his grandpa would commit his time to fully support him in his track and field endeavours.
It’s amazing how the trailblazer continues to promote excellence in Indigenous sports. The generational ripple effect continues with SK. Indigenous professional athletes Ethan Bear and Brigette Lacquette. There are so many kids that look up to these two young athletes with hopes of making it big one day.
Covering a widespread of Indigenous sport stories over the years left me with a sense of pride for the athletes. Kudos to their parents/caregivers, mentors/role models and all those who organize a game, tournament or a sporting event – you’ve all made it possible for the youth to excel in sports. From Tony Cote to Fred Sasakamoose and many more who contributed to Indigenous sports, there will always be people stepping in to ensure that Indigenous sports will continue to prosper.
In conclusion, I would like to wish all the best to the Indigenous athletes who are competing in this year’s National Aboriginal Hockey Championships in Nova Scotia. Good luck and most importantly, have fun!