Journey of an Ojibwe athlete
"Henry Boucha, Ojibwa: Native American Olympian," published in 2013, is the latest book added to the American Indians in Sports class at UMD. Henry Boucha is the well-known hockey player from Warroad, Minn. He was a silver medalist on the 1972 US...
"Henry Boucha, Ojibwa: Native American Olympian," published in 2013, is the latest book added to the American Indians in Sports class at UMD. Henry Boucha is the well-known hockey player from Warroad, Minn. He was a silver medalist on the 1972 USA Olympic team and then played professionally for the Detroit Red Wings, Minnesota North Stars, Kansas City Scouts and Colorado Rockies. In 1975, a stick incident left him with cracked bone around his eye and a permanent eye injury. He retired from professional hockey in 1976.
Henry's book differs in some significant ways from other sports autobiographies. The book is not only the story of his life as an athlete, but a history of the Ojibwe of the Warroad area, the town, people and his own journey as a man who lives and learns in a world that he knows is much bigger than the individual self. Today, as an elder, he works with Native people, particularly youth, sharing his encouragement as well as what he has learned in his walk on the road to Pimatiziwin, the Ojibwe word for the living of a good life. Very recently he became involved in educating the public about the honorable historical Ojibwe origins of the Warroad High School's athletic teams, the Warroad Warriors.
Chapter 1 introduces the reader to significance of the four colors of humankind created by the Great Spirit, and of a basic teaching from Native American philosophy: "The quest for the good life in the Creator and overall well-being is the story of the Anishinaabe (the first people of North America) from time immemorial. This forms the basis for our worldview upon which our ways are founded."
This chapter leads into the story of the Ojibwe Great Migration, and then to the arrival of a group of Ojibwe people to what is now Warroad. The history of the community, Henry's extended family and Henry himself follows. Much of the book addresses his hockey career, from childhood through his injury and efforts to keep playing professionally. Throughout are interwoven reflections and thoughts about his upbringing and an awareness, from the vantage point of history, that not only his hockey career but his life were going to change.
How does a young man come back from a life-changing injury? What does a man do with the hand that he is dealt? Henry's hockey injury redirected his life's journey. His walk on an unexpected fork in his path is recounted from the perspective of his years, experience and reflection. He tells his story of searching for his place in the world, and that "though mostly remembered for his on-ice abilities, his greatest asset can be found off ice helping others" with modesty and heart.
While reading Henry's story, I kept turning back to Chapter 1. Each time that teaching from the Ojibwe spiritual tradition returned, until it anchored itself in the experience of reading the book.
The last few chapters address Henry's life and career after the injury. He ends this book Ojibwe elder-style, with some words of advice that are gentle, affirming and encouraging. At 466 pages, this is a big book that is also an enjoyable read.
The students in the American Indians in Sports class have responded very positively to the material. The evidence of their quizzes and written assignments indicates that they have learned a great deal. I have purchased several copies, one for myself, one for class use - scribbling in and marking up - and some as gifts.
Monthly columnist Linda LeGarde Grover is a professor of American Indian Studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth, an award-winning writer and a member of the Bois Forte Band of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe. Email her at email@example.com .