It is believed that Fred Saskamoose was the first full blooded Native Indian to play in the National Hockey League. It was fitting that he played with the Chicago Blackhawks. Fred played center for 11 games for the Hawks in the 1953-54 season.
Fred grew up on the isolated Sandy Lake Reserve in Saskatchewan. In his early years there was no such things as cars, phones or even electricity! But there was lots of snow and ice, and Fred loved to play hockey - complete with a stick carved out of an old willow tree branch!
Fred soon left the reserve though, as the Catholic church convince his parents that he needed a good education, and that could only be accomplished by leaving the reserve and going to Duck Lake. While education wasn't high on Fred's task list, he became a great athlete as the clergy worked the children hard on the local farms. Fred would be in great physical shape before long after he and the others had to take care of 80 milking cows and 50 acres of gardens at the school, not to mention lots of sports - soccer, baseball, boxing, but especially hockey.
Fred had enough by the age of 15 though and yearned to be at home with his parents. He left the school and returned to the reserve. But by this time he had already gotten quite a name for himself as a hock talent at the midget level, and this had caught the eyes of junior hockey scouts. Although he was reluctant to leave home again, he agreed to join the the Moose Jaw Canucks.
Fred continued to develop and excel as a hockey over the next 4 seasons. By his 4th season he was named as the best player in the league.
By this time Fred had already signed a C-Form with the Chicago Blackhawks. A C-Form was used to acquire an amateur player's professional rights in the days long before the NHL had an entry draft. Fred had actually attend Blackhawk training camps in the past. In fact on one occasion he centered hockey's most culturally diverse line - Al Laycock, a Black left winger and Jimmy Chow, of Asian descent, joined the Native Canadian.
Late in his 4th season in Moose Jaw Fred was actually called up to the National Hockey League by the Chicago Blackhawks, and finished the year with the Hawks. Fred was as strong as a moose and a great skater. Legend has it that he actually shot the puck harder than Bobby Hull - the great Chicago Blackhawk who is considered to be the heaviest shooter of all time!
For Fred the whole experience was at first overwhelming, but he later took in as much as he could. He was in shock to arrive in Toronto, and then when the game started he couldn't believe how many people were there watching the game, and that after years of listening to games on radio and tv, he too would be part of Hockey Night In Canada! He even met Foster Hewitt, who asked how to properly pronounce his name.
Fred took his place in the NHL for granted a bit and was surprised by his demotion to the minor leagues in 1954-55. He played for the New Westminister Royals and Chicoutimi Sagueneens before joining the Calgary Stampeders of the WHL in 1955-56. He would never make it back to the National Hockey League.
Fred quit the pro hockey only 2 games into the '55-56 season as he wanted to be with his wife who refused to leave the Sandy Lake Reserve. Tired of being told what to do my hockey bosses, Fred took a taxi 600 miles from Calgary to Sandy Lake to be with his wife.
Angry at Fred's leaving, the Hawks refused to grant him his amateur status until 1957. He would play senior hockey in the Okanagan Senior Hockey League. He was quite the attraction as fans wanted to see a former NHLer and an Indian hero.
Saskamoose would later go on to become a band chief in 1980. His name was "Chief Running Deer" although he was also known as "Chief Thunder Stick" because of his booming slap shot. Fred devoted his energies to Indian affairs in Saskatchewan.
Fred Saskamoose, one of best men in all of Canada, played 11 games with the Hawks, recording no points and 6 penalty minutes. He was inducted into the Saskatchewan Indian Hall of Fame in 1994.