Like any good journalist, Irene Schmidt-Adeney loves to unravel a good mystery.
But Schmidt-Adney, a reporter for the Ayr News, a weekly publication in Southwestern Ontario, Canada, didn’t realize how deep she would have to dig to try to solve the mystery of Henry Elmer “Buddy” Maracle.
She wondered why hockey history hasn’t shown love to Maracle, an Ayr product who appears to have been the first indigenous player in the National Hockey League.
Maracle, a Mohawk from Six Nations, played 11 regular season games and four Stanley Cup Playoffs contests for the New York Rangers in 1930-31. He tallied a goal and 3 assists in his short tenure with the Blue Shirts.
Hockey historians regard Fred Sasakamoose as the first NHL’s first indigenous player with treaty status. Sasakamoose, a member of the Ahtahkakoop Cree Nation, played 11 games for the Chicago Blackhawks in 1953-54 without registering a point.
Sasakamoose, 84, was invested in the Order of Canada last week, an honor that recognizes Canadian citizens for outstanding achievement, dedication to community or service to the nation.
Sasakamoose is also a member of the Saskatchewan First Nations Sports Hall of Fame. the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame, the Prince Albert Hall of Fame and the Canadian Native Hockey Hall of Fame.
“It’s great that he got the Order of Canada, but Maracle should be recognized,” said Schmidt-Adeney, who published her story about Maracle in March after months of exhaustive research. “We’re not going to go out and demand that the Order of Canada come off Fred’s neck. It would just be nice if Henry Maracle was recognized.”
Maracle is starting to get his due, thanks to Schmidt-Adeney’s doggedness. She reached out to the Rangers and obtained two official jerseys, complete with Maracle’s last name and Number 14 on the back.
One of the sweaters will be presented at a ceremony next month to North Dumfries Mayor Sue Foxton on behalf of the township. Former New York Islanders broadcaster Jiggs McDonald, an Ayr native, and Walter Gretzky, father of Wayne Gretzky, the NHL’s all-time leading scorer, plan to attend the event, Schmidt-Adeney said.
Plans are being formulated to present the second Rangers jersey to a representative of Six Nations of Grand River, hopefully to coincide with National Aboriginal Heritage Day on the June 21.
In addition, the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto asked Schmidt-Adeney for her research on Maracle.
She noted in her March 21, 2018 article that the Hall had biographies for Maracle and Sasakamoose in its data base, but only had Sasakamoose described as indigenous.
So who was Henry Elmer “Buddy” Maracle?
He was a 5-foot-11 left wing whose professional career began in 1926-27 with the Springfield Indians of the old Canadian-AmericanHockey League. He spent four season with the Indians before he was traded to the Rangers in 1930-31. His hockey exploits garnered racist headlines like “Indian Puck Star” and “Redskin Icer.”
He ended his professional playing career in 1936-37 after skating for the Indians, Philadelphia Arrows, New Haven Eagles, and Bronx Tigers of the old Canadian-American Hockey League, and the Tulsa Oilers of the American Hockey Association. He briefly served the Oilers’ player/head coach during the 1936-37 season, according to HockeyDB.com.
The hockey statistics site says that Maracle played amateur senior hockey for the Detroit Holzbaugh-Fords of the Michigan-Ontario Hockey League in 1938-39
Maracle became a U.S. citizen and worked in auto and tire plants in Detroit. He gave up his Mohawk status in 1955, according to Schmidt-Adeney’s research. Three years later, Maracle died from a kidney disorder in 1958 at the age of 53. He was a produce truck driver living in Dallas, Texas, at that time.
“It’s interesting that it all happened at the same time,” Schmidt-Adeney said of Maracle becoming a U.S. and relinquishing his Mohawk ties. “What happened? Why did he give up his status? I don’t know.”
So how did history bypass Maracle?
Schmidt-Adeney doesn’t think it was a deliberate slight. She surmises that it was, in part, a result of a dark period of Canada’s history when First Nations youth were sent to residential schools – church-run, government-funded institutions that were established to “aggressively assimilate” students to white Canadian culture.
The schools were unpleasant places where abuse – physical, mental, and sexual – occurred. Residential schools first opened in the 19th Century and the last one closed in 1996.
About 150,000 First Nation, Inuit and Metis children were removed from their communities and forced to attend the schools, CBC News reported in 2008.
“People didn’t say they had young children because they didn’t want them taken away,” Schmidt-Adeney told me. “There was that whole issue and there were other issues at that time that Maracle was born that would make him harder to find.”
“It was 100 years ago, we didn’t have the Internet, we didn’t have communication,” she added. “Not only did we not have communication, we had a government that was taking children away. So it’s completely understandable that this information (about Maracle) didn’t come out.”
Also contributing to the mystery of Maracle is the fact that he grew estranged from his family some time after 1939. Schmidt-Adeney said she hopes to learn more from a Maracle descendant who she recently found.
“I reached out to her via email, but no response (yet),” Schmidt-Adeney told me.
Follow the Color of Hockey on Facebook and Twitter @ColorOfHockey. And download the Color of Hockey podcast from iTunes, Stitcher, SoundCloud and Google Play.