They Call Me Chief: Warriors on Ice.


280 pages
Contains Photos, Index
ISBN 978-1-897289-34-1
DDC 796.962'640922





Reviewed by Ian A. Andrews

Ian A. Andrews is a high-school social sciences teacher and editor of the New Brunswick Teachers’ Association’s Focus.


In 2001, filmmaker Don Marks directed a documentary film for Global Television featuring stories about members of First Nations communities who had overcome many obstacles and become members of a sporting elite—those who were able to make it to “the show” in professional hockey (i.e., the National Hockey League). This documentary film (included in the DVD accompanying the book) provides the preliminary material from which Marks constructed They Call Me Chief. Based on interviews with participants, Marks has expanded and updated the material to provide a more detailed and rounded examination of the players and their careers. The foreword by Phil Fontaine, National Grand Chief of the Assembly of First Nations and a dedicated hockey player, provides the historical and personal context for the pages that follow.


Although the author proclaims that his goal is “to provide the history of Indian, Inuit and Métis athletes who played in the NHL, freely and honestly, with no expectations of sensationalism or controversy, legal or otherwise,” the results exceed the expectations. Each chapter features the biographical background on which the career of a particular athlete is influenced. In every instance, obstacles existed: exposure to racism, the loneliness of participating in a predominantly “foreign” environment, or alcohol and drug abuse, among others. If the “true warrior” is one who overcomes obstacles, the careers of George Armstrong, Jim Nielson, Stan Jonathan, Bryan Trottier, Ron Delorme, Ted Nolan, and Theo Fleury place them in the warrior category.


In each case, Marks explores how different athletes dealt with the particular obstacles that stood in their paths. Although the author does not hesitate to inject his own viewpoints into the narrative, his “warts and all” approach provides a refreshing contrast to sports biographies designed to promote rather than illuminate. They Call Me Chief is more than a sports book. It deals with treaty rights, residential schools, sports mascots, conditions on reserves, and how hockey teams like the OCN Blizzard in La Pas, Manitoba, can help to heal longstanding racial wounds between Native and non-Native communities.


Marks, Don., “They Call Me Chief: Warriors on Ice.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 22, 2024,