Former Olympic and NHL player Henry Boucha greets fans in Duluth, discusses Ojibwa heritage

At 8 years old, Gabriella Brisbois is already in the second year of her hockey career, playing in the mites division of the all-girls Duluth Icebreakers.

Henry Boucha
Former Minnesota high school hockey star and NHL player Henry Boucha of Warroad speaks at the Duluth Public Library on Saturday. Boucha talked about his playing days and his Ojibwa heritage. (Clint Austin /

At 8 years old, Gabriella Brisbois is already in the second year of her hockey career, playing in the mites division of the all-girls Duluth Icebreakers.
She’s developing an interest in being a goalie just like her dad, Leo Brisbois, was when playing for the Bluejackets of Hibbing High School.
But it wasn’t just hockey that prompted Leo Brisbois to take Gabriella to see former Olympic and NHL hockey player Henry Boucha speak at the Duluth Public Library on Saturday.
“She’s discovering the hockey part of it,” said Brisbois, the U.S. magistrate judge in Duluth for the District of Minnesota. “But I also wanted her here to see somebody from the Indian community who can achieve what they want versus - in the ’70s and ’80s - what society said they should do. Her grandfather is White Earth Ojibwa and is in his late 70s now, and he would tell stories of Henry Boucha.”
Boucha, 63, a full-blooded Ojibwa who grew up in hockey-rich Warroad, Minn., told some stories of his own during the hourlong presentation in the library’s Green Room. Hockey interested him in his early years, Boucha said, but not his heritage.
“I didn’t want to be an Indian because of the depictions of Indian people in (Hollywood) films,” he told an audience of several dozen people. “They showed the Indians as drunk, ignorant, stupid.”
But he didn’t start to learn what it really meant to be a Native American from the perspective of other people until he left home as a teenager to play for the Winnipeg Jets, which then was part of Canada’s Western Hockey League.
“That’s when I first learned about racism, discrimination and prejudice,” Boucha said. “I took a lot of slanderous, vicious words from the players, from the coaches, from the fans.”
Although at times he felt like quitting, Boucha stuck with it, embarking on a short but successful hockey career. He already had played in the Minnesota high school hockey championship game in 1969, where the Warroad Warriors lost in overtime to Edina, 5-4. He was recruited at age 18 for the USA national team, where he played from 1970-72.
That was the team that won the silver medal in the 1972 Winter Olympics in Japan. One of his teammates on that team, Keith “Huffer” Christiansen of Duluth, chatted with Boucha just ahead of Saturday’s presentation. They were joined by Christiansen’s brother, Kelvin “Brush” Christiansen, founder and longtime coach of the University of Alaska-Anchorage Seawolves hockey team.
Boucha went straight from the Olympics to the Detroit Red Wings, and he was traded to the Minnesota North Stars in 1974. He was injured in a 1975 game when Dave Forbes of Boston punched him near the eye with the butt of his stick. Boucha has double vision and depth-perception difficulties to this day. Forbes was charged in Hennepin County with assault, but a jury was unable to reach a verdict.
Boucha, just 25 at the time, stayed in hockey for a couple of more years before retiring in 1977. That led to a time of depression and self-pity, he said. It was broken when he came across the carcass of a golden eagle during a walk in the Idaho hills when he was 29 or 30. As a Native American, he saw the encounter with the eagle as a spiritual sign that change was coming, he said. It came later that year when he was visiting family in Warroad and his 14-year-old daughter asked him to stay so she could live with him.
“I got an apartment the next day,” he said. “That was the beginning of my comeback.”
Boucha now has a home in Anchorage but is spending much of his time traveling, with Minnetonka, Minn., as his home base. The talk at the library was Boucha’s sixth in four days as he promotes the memoir he completed last year, “Henry Boucha, Ojibwa, Native American Olympian.”
Boucha, who was inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in 1995, is president and CEO of Boucha Films. He plans a 21-part documentary on each of the 21 Native American Olympians. He has been negotiating a movie deal based on his book but turned down the first proposal, he said.

Team nicknames

Boucha also has gotten involved in the issue of team nicknames. He said he was grocery shopping on Aug. 15 when he got word that the National Coalition Against Racism in Sports and Media had served notice that a federal lawsuit would be filed against the Warroad schools if they didn’t drop Warriors as its team name in 30 days.
It was late on Friday, and Boucha couldn’t reach anyone in the Minneapolis-based organization. So he took to Facebook, explaining that the Warrior name had been chosen to honor the perseverance of local Indians battling against Sioux tribes. The school’s Indian Parent Committee had designed the school’s logo, he added.
On Sunday night, a board member called him and asked Boucha to attend their meeting on Monday. The board quickly apologized and rescinded their letter, “and 20 minutes later they asked me to serve on their board,” he said.
The Redskins name used by the Washington NFL team is a far different matter, Boucha said. That term stemmed from the bounties white colonists placed on Indian people and is denigrating to Native Americans, he said. Boucha was among the speakers at a rally against the name when the Minnesota Vikings played Washington in Minneapolis two weeks ago.
It’s offensive to see “somebody half-drunk, dressed up in turkey feathers, with paint on, doing the war whoop or the tomahawk chop,” Boucha said. “There is no honor in racism, there is no honor in prejudice, and there is no honor in discrimination.”

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