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Remembering Hockey Hall of Famer Butchy Mousseau

Butchy Mousseau makes a call during a game

Butchy Mousseau makes a call during a game

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. –– On March 25, 2016, Hockey Hall of Fame referee, Oliver “Butch” Mousseau (Oglala Lakota), died one week after sustaining head injuries during a fall on the ice as he was preparing to referee a game in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Butch Mousseau was inducted in the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2003 for being the first Native American referee in the National Hockey League.

It was during the pre-game warm-ups of a Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) Final Five semifinal game on the evening of Friday, March 18 at the Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, Mich. when Mousseau, an avid ice skater since the age of 7, fell while skating backwards landing head-first on the ice.

Butch with son Sam and daughters Abbie and Olivia.

Butch with son Sam and daughters Abbie and Olivia.

Beloved father, son and brother Butch Mousseau laid on the ice as a small pool of blood formed on the ice. Minutes later, Mousseau was in the emergency room.

This is how Oliver “Butch” Mousseau passed away, but his family would like to remember how he lived. Native Sun News interviewed his mother, Mary Mousseau.

Like many families in the 1960’s, poverty, struggle and federal assimilation policies affected the lives of tribal members as more and more children were being born into urban-Indian communities. “Butch grew up in a home, where his dad and I had just moved off the reservation. We were in Oregon for six years. That’s where he was born. We went home for a year and moved to Colorado when he was two,” said Mary.

While living in Colorado, the Mousseau family were financially stressed but managed to support their family and provide what little they could. This is when Butchy was introduced to hockey. “He began school there. We were given passes to a recreation center and that’s where he discovered the ice rink. It was love at first sight,” Mary said with a gleam in her eyes.

“He would tell me, ‘Mama, I wanna ice skate.’ So we went to garage sales looking for skates and found out they were bringing in old equipment to buy. So we got him a jersey and a pair of skates,” she says of his first time skating in Boulder, Colo. “He was 7. He fell in love. He made the team they had there. They were just these long jerseys down to his knees. But he thought he was so cool.”

Despite minimal means and time, Butchy’s parents supported their son. “The team would have ice time. But it was always at 5:30 or 6 o’- clock in the morning. I would remember him getting me up, ‘Mama, get up! We get ice time this morning. I’ll clean off the car (from snow)’ and I’d be like, couldn’t you just play basketball?”

Butch’s determination to succeed began at seven years old on them frozen streets of Boulder. “He’d go out and clean the snow off and he’d even start it up. I would go out to the car and there he would be sitting with his little helmet on and his stick. I remember saying, ‘Oh my god, I hope this is just a phase,’” Mary said smiling.

“We’d get done and go home and he’d be so happy. We’d make a beeline for the shower because I had to be to work and he had to be to school. Half the time he wouldn’t shower. He’d just go to school stink and that’s how he got started,” she said of hockey becoming the center of both of their worlds.

The 1960’s were hard on American Indians. “We didn’t have any money usually and he became our entertainment, because we were always taking him to practice, to games; always in a beat up old car,” Mary told Native Sun News.

Before moving to Colorado, the Mousseau family was living on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation for a brief period. “There was a program in Pine Ridge called “New Careers”. It was part of the Migrant Action Program (MAP). They recruited Natives to come to school at CU (University of Colorado, Boulder). We got a stipend and student housing. It was for families and that’s how we started,” she discussed of their move to Boulder.

“His dad (Oliver Sr.) started school and I worked at the telephone company,” she said. Before moving to Boulder, Mary and husband Oliver had moved to San Jose, Calif. during the Relocation Program in the early 1960’s. The Relocation Program began in the 1950’s as a federal policy which provided assistance to families to move to major cities around the country. Assimilation into mainstream American society was the goal.

Butch Mousseau was born in Burns, Oregon. “My brother had gotten killed in a car wreck and my uncle was working at a saw mill called Hines Lumber Company in Burns,” she said of the family’s decision to move to Oregon. “We went to work in the saw mill and we lived there for about six years. They automated the saw mill so we moved back to the reservation (Pine Ridge),” said Mary.

After being recruited in the MAP program, the Mousseaus moved to Boulder. “We were trying to get into mainstream and then the Vietnam War came. Times were so fast. It was a different world then; free love and the children. It was all together a different ball game for us,” Mary said of the development of her social activism.

“It was quite an experience. When Oliver (Sr.) was in school, he was exposed to a lot of radicalism, of course the American Indian Movement. I started working for the Native American Rights Fund (NARF). We were all for civil rights,” Mary said.

In 1970, a program started in California with funding from Ford Foundation to provide legal services to California Indians (California Indian Legal Services). This became the Native American Rights Fund. A year later, NARF became its own entity separate from the California Indian Legal Services, and became based in Boulder, Colorado.

“We’re talking ’68. In 1968, we got our civil rights. And in ’72 we got our American Indian Religious Freedom Act. These were all new and exciting times. I always thought we’d make a difference,” said the former-activist.

Soon, Mary became disillusioned with the movement. “Then, reality sets in. You have to pay the rent, the bills. You get older and you see how the whole movement is going and it’s not pretty. I don’t want my babies to grow up like this,” Mary candidly said. “And you start letting go of your idealistic ways. Then you see things like Anna Mae Aquash and how they treat each other.”

Despite the social upheaval happening all around, young Butchy continued to train. “That’s the background Butch came from. He wore his hair long in braids when he went to school. He was really gifted athletically. He could play baseball, basketball. He was ten years old and he was on the all-star team,” the proud mother told NSN.

In high school sports, Butch Mousseau continued to excel. “He had a wonderful personality. He had a smile that would just make everybody happy. He was on the homecoming court in high school,” Mary said. “But, I wouldn’t let him play football. And I was radical enough to say, ‘Son, they only want you to protect their golden boys. You are gonna stand there and take the hits.’”

The bonds made by sports teammates last a lifetime. “Some of those kids Butch played baseball with are still his good friends. Some of them were his pallbearers,” she said.

Butch began to referee hockey games while in college in New York. Mary told NSN, “I thought once he finished college he’d be ok. But oh no, not Butch. He chose to go the hockey route and he struggled. The season starts on October 1 and ends probably in middle March. So who wants to hire someone whose there only half the time?”

As his career began, he started a family as well. “His life was his kids. He loved those kids. Butch was a really good dad. It’s unfortunate, but I’m glad his kids got to know him while they had the chance,” said Mary.

On June 23-26, 2016 in Denver, the life and career of Butch Mousseau will be honored during the 6th Annual Dawg Bowl Charity Tournament, an event sponsored by Dawg Nation, a Colorado-based non-profit organization.

The Lakota mother, still in mourning struggled throughout her interview with Native Sun News, but maintained the pride she had for her son. “He was a beautiful skater. It’s just so ironic that he passed doing what he loved. How many of us get to do that? How many of us get up and go to work, doing what we love and die doing it? Not too many,” Mary said in tears.

“I think god made him extra special because he was gonna be gone so soon,” closed the mother of Butch Mousseau.

In next week’s issue, learn more about the career of Oliver “Butch” Mousseau and hear stories from friends and colleagues who were present to honor him during Dawg Bowl in Denver.

(Contact Richie Richards at

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