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Miles Morrisseau
Special to Indian Country Today

His name should be known in the hockey-crazed country of Canada, the way baseball-loving America knows the name Jackie Robinson.

Kenneth Moore, Peepeekisis Cree Nation, was a member of the 1932 Canadian hockey team that won a gold medal at the 1932 Olympics in Lake Placid, New York. He is believed to be the first Indigenous person to represent Canada in the Winter Olympics and the first to win gold, but he has not gotten national recognition. He died in 1981. (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Moore Rattray)

Kenneth Moore, Peepeekisis Cree Nation, is believed to be the first Indigenous person to represent Canada in the Winter Olympics and the first to win gold, and it happened nearly a century ago. He was a member of the hockey team that topped the podium at the 1932 games in Lake Placid, New York.

Although he never played in the National Hockey League or competed for a Stanley Cup, he did win two other coveted hockey championships, the Memorial Cup and the Allan Cup. He died in 1981.

His name should be known because his story resonates with elements of Canada’s national passion but also its national disgrace, the Indian Residential School System.

But he’s not in Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, which initially designated other athletes as the first Indigenous athletes to win Olympic gold medals. He’s not in the British Columbia Sports Hall of Fame or the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame, though the teams he played on are recognized.

It wasn’t until his granddaughter, former journalist Jennifer Moore Rattray, heard that other Indigenous athletes were inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame as the country’s first Olympians for representing the nation in the 1970s that efforts began in earnest to get Moore recognized for his achievements.

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Rattray first contacted the Sports Hall of Fame in 2015 asking them to consider her grandfather for induction but was rejected. She says it hurts that her grandfather’s legacy remains unknown and unacknowledged in the country he represented.

“I have not been successful there,” said Rattray, the chief operating officer at the Southern Chiefs'​ Organization, which supports more than 30 First Nations in southern Manitoba, Canada.

“I'm not sure why or how, but that's that,” she told Indian Country Today. “Other senior athletes and senior Indigenous leaders have said to me, ‘We're not quite sure why, either.’”

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In a request for comment on Moore’s nomination, Canada's Sports Hall of Fame responded in an emailed statement that it had an "active nomination" for Moore.

“At this time, we do not have any research information regarding Mr. Moore and are unable to assist you with this request,” according to the email. "The announcement of the Class of 2022 will take place in May after which we can advise on the status of the nomination.”

Escaping into the night

Long before he achieved success on ice, Moore first had to escape the clutches of Canada's brutal and deadly Indian Residential School System.

When he was a little boy, his parents, James and Edith Moore, packed everything they could carry and disappeared into the prairie night fearing for their children’s lives.

Moore was born Feb. 17, 1910, in Balcarres, Saskatchewan, about 160 miles north of western North Dakota and adjacent to Peepeekeesis Cree Nation where his family lived and near the File Hills Indian Residential School. All children on the reserve had to go to residential school. That was the law in Canada.

The Indian Residential School system took thousands of Indigenous children away from their homes and placed them in institutions to be assimilated into mainstream Canadian society. The system was nothing less than genocide. Siblings were separated. Indigenous languages were outlawed and enforced with corporal punishment that started with strapping.

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Sexual, physical, emotional and spiritual violence was normalized. It seeped into the walls and the air like the tuberculosis that killed so many children. In 1907, Dr. Peter Bryce, chief medical officer of Canada’s Department of the Interior made his infamous report on the death rate in Indian residential schools, saying, “Of a total of 1537 pupils reported upon nearly 25 per cent are dead, of one school with an absolutely accurate statement, 69 per cent of ex-pupils are dead, and that everywhere the almost invariable cause of death given is tuberculosis.”

Shuana Niessen, a faculty member at the University of Regina in Canada, documented the impact in “Shattering the Silence: The Hidden History of Indian Residential Schools in Saskatchewan,” which included survivor stories from File Hills. One survivor recalled his first day at the institution.

“First thing I knew, I was ushered into a room, which they called the playroom,” according to Niessen’s publication. “The farm instructor whose name was Mr. Redgrave and who was an old sergeant from the First World War came in with a sheep’s shear and cut my 4 braids off and threw them on the floor. After a while, along came a young boy rolling a horse clippers into the room and that horse clippers bounced over my head and gave me a bald head. After he got through, he said, ‘Now you are no longer an Indian.’”

The Indian Act controlled every aspect of First Nations life and mandated that residential school attendance was compulsory by the age of seven.

When it was time for young Kenneth to go, his parents knew they had to run. The residential school system had already taken much more than the Moores could stand. Their two oldest sons had gone into the system and never returned, dying more than 200 miles away at the Brandon Indian Residential School in Manitoba. The boys’ remains were never returned to their families.

Preliminary investigations are now underway at the Brandon site to find unmarked graves. The reality that thousands of children who attended Indian residential schools are buried in unmarked graves across Canada has been known since May 27, 2021, when Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation announced that 215 unmarked children’s graves were found on the grounds of the former residential school near Kamloops, British Columbia. The discovery of hundreds of more bodies at different sites across the nation have followed.

Moore’s parents were not going to let him be swallowed up into that nightmare, his granddaughter said.

Kenneth Moore, Peepeekisis Cree Nation, shown here in an early, undated photo, was a member of the 1932 Canadian hockey team that won a gold medal at the 1932 Olympics in Lake Placid, New York. He is the first Indigenous person to represent Canada in the Winter Olympics and the first to win gold, but he has not gotten national recognition. He died in 1981. (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Rattray)

“He was the next child to go, so right around the time when he would have had to go to residential school, they left the First Nation, as the family story goes,” Rattray said. “They had to sneak away basically because the Indian agent had to give you permission to leave at that time.”

First Nation people were not allowed to leave the reserve unless issued a pass by an Indian agent. It was legal up until 1951 for anyone who saw a First Nation person off the reserve to demand to see the pass. It was a policy emulated by the South African government as a key component in creating and maintaining the apartheid system.

The challenges faced by the elder Moores would be difficult to imagine; racism and outright hatred must have been pervasive. Métis leader Louis Riel had been hanged in Regina, Saskatchewan, just about 30 years earlier for his role in the Northwest Rebellion of 1885, the last armed Indigenous land defense in western Canada. The role of First Nations in the rebellion was most notably Plains Cree led by Chief Big Bear. In addition to Riel, eight First Nations warriors were hanged for their role in the rebellion.

“When I think about them, feeling that they had to leave because they had lost their first two kids,” Rattray said. “And then having to leave everything that they knew behind, you know, their culture, their language, their community, their contacts, their everything to live basically in a foreign land in Regina, and to try and make it work and basically give their kids a life of safety and give their kids a life, quite frankly.”

A gifted student

A refugee in his own land, Moore excelled. He was a top player or captain in hockey, baseball, lacrosse, rugby, basketball and speed skating.

“He was an incredibly hard worker,” Rattray said. “He won scholarships to American universities. But he didn't actually go because in those days a scholarship just covered your tuition. It didn't cover your transportation to get there, didn't cover your … room and board and that kind of thing. So, for those reasons, he stayed in Regina and went to Campion and Regina college. But, he was very gifted, both academically and as an athlete.”

In college, he was captain of the hockey and the rugby teams. In 1930, he scored the game-winning goal that won The Regina Pats the Memorial Cup. The next year he joined the Winnipeg Hockey Club and won the Allan Cup, which earned him an offer to play for Team Canada at the 1932 Winter Olympics.

He won another Allan Cup with the Kimberley Dynamiters of British Columbia and remained involved in hockey as a volunteer later in life.

But he did not spend time bragging about his accomplishments. In fact, it wasn’t talked about much in the family at all until young Rattray discovered the gold medal and other items after his death.

“I was looking in one of my mom's drawers,” she said. “I found an Olympic jersey, like a Canada jersey, a woolen Canadian hockey jersey, but old, it looked like a sweater basically. And I just asked her what it was.

“She told me about my grandfather, and that he had won an Olympic gold medal. The Olympic medal wasn't out, it wasn't displayed; the hockey jersey wasn't displayed. All this memorabilia that we have was actually just tucked in a drawer.”

In the years since that discovery, Rattray has been sharing her grandfather’s story and trying to gain him the recognition he deserves. So far, she’s had little success.

What has made this more troubling for Rattray is that she knows the media, and knocked on all the right doors looking to have her grandfather’s story heard.

“I was a journalist for 15 years,” she said. “I am shocked at the lack of interest.”

It’s been 90 years since Kenneth Moore brought home the gold to a country that stole his brothers and let them die far from home, that chased him and his family away from their homes in the middle of the night.

It was that sacrifice that Jennifer believes drove her grandfather.

“I would imagine that weighed on him,” she said. “The fact that everything his family and his parents had done to keep him safe, that in some way he needed to show them it was worthwhile. And he needed to show them that their sacrifice was worthwhile.”

It is another reason why Rattray continues to advocate for her grandfather – so that his achievements can be seen as well as the sacrifices of his family and the tragic loss of his older brothers.

Clarification: This story and photo captions have been updated to clarify that Kenneth Moore is believed to be the first Indigenous athlete to represent Canada in the Winter Olympics.

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