On Friday evening, it was announced that Fred Sasakamoose – the first Indigenous person to play in the NHL – was fighting with what appeared to be COVID-19. Sasakamoose’s son, Neil posted a statement on Fred’s official Facebook page Friday evening, before recording a lengthy video, going into more depth on the situation regarding his father.
“Dr. Fred Sasakamoose is presumed positive and is awaiting test results for Covid-19 and is being admitted to a Health Facility for treatment,” the statement read. “The 86-year-old has had symptoms for a couple days, was admitted today at a local hospital and is presumed positive and is now waiting for test results. We are asking people, the hockey community and fans to think about Fred at this time. Chief Thunderstick needs your prayers so he can recover quickly. From the Family!”
Sasakamoose – from Big River First Nation – was raised on the Ahtahkakoop Cree Nation in northern Saskatchewan, before being taken some 500 kilometres from his home as a six-year-old child to the Duck Lake Residential School, St. Michael’s. In 1954 he made history as the first Indigenous player to skate in the National Hockey League. He played in 11 games for the Chicago Blackhawks that season as a 20-year-old.
Sasakamoose was invited to the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame in 2007, before being appointed to the Order of Canada in 2017. Since 1960, Sasakamoose has served as chief, elder and band leader within his home community. He has put a high priority on proponents directed towards the success of young Indigenous people and the development of sport within their communities. This past October saw the University of Saskatchewan present Sasakamoose with a degree as an honourary doctor of laws.
The now 86-year-old has reportedly caught COVID-19 through his ‘young’ caretaker, to whom Neil Sasakamoose says should not feel guilty or ashamed, as the virus is “nothing that can be prevented or controlled”. After first being told his father tested positive for COVID, Neil was informed that he has just been listed as a presumed positive case.
Sasakamoose is currently in hospital isolation and on oxygen support as he battles shortness of breath, dizzy spells and much wheezing.
“He wasn’t feeling good, he was short of breath, he was wheezing yesterday morning,” Neil Sasakamoose said of his father. “You could tell he was weak, he was tired and he was really labouring with air and oxygen. I got really scared yesterday, 164 of us did. Your parents and your grandparents are the centre of your universe.”
On Saturday evening, one of Sasakamoose’s nurses posed for a selfie with the hockey legend, which was also shared to Sasakamoose’s Facebook page.
Neil went on to explain that his immediate family includes 164 people and all are deeply concerned with his father’s well-being. Having been close contacts of Sasakamoose, Fred’s with Loretta, two of his other children and the caretaker have also been in self-isolation since Friday as results of testing have yet to come back.