David Greyeyes-Steele

Football's Pioneers: David Greyeyes-Steele

Professor Matt Taylor, from De Montfort University’s International Centre for Sports History & Culture, profiles David Greyeyes-Steele, a Canadian First Nation footballer whose achievements received many accolades.
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On 17 June, 1937, Charlton Athletic beat the Saskatchewan All-Stars 12-2 as part of its summer tour of North America. Included in the All-Stars side were brothers David and George Greyeyes, members of the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation. Charlton’s goalkeeper Sam Bartram rated them the best players in the All-Stars team. 

Born in 1914, David Greyeyes-Steele had an extraordinary life as a war hero and a public servant as well as a successful athlete in a number of sports. He studied agriculture at the Lebret Industrial Residential School and excelled at baseball, ice hockey and football. After leaving school, he returned to the Muskeg Lake Reserve to farm grain, work in logging camps and look after his mother. During the 1930s, he represented Muskeg Lake in football and ice hockey.

In 1940, Greyeyes-Steele enlisted in the Canadian Army. He became an instructor in a machine-gun reinforcement unit in Britain. He soon rose to become lieutenant in the Saskatchewan Light Infantry, where he commanded a mortar platoon. He served in the Italian campaign and received a Greek Military Cross for valour. He also served in north Africa, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany. 

Greyeyes-Steele played football when he could during his time in Europe. He was part of a unit team that won the Overseas Army Championship in 1942 and played in and coached the Canadian team in Inter-Allied games. In 1949, he represented the Saskatchewan All-Stars against Newcastle United. 

After the war, Greyeyes-Steele returned to farming and, in 1958, he became chief of the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation. In 1960, he began a sparkling career in federal public service in the Indian Affairs Branch of the Department of Citizenship and Immigration. He later became the first Indigenous person in Canada to be appointed a Regional Director of Indian Affairs. 

Following retirement in 1975, Greyeyes-Steele was honoured for his public service and sporting achievements. He was made a Member of the Order of Canada in 1977 and received the Saskatchewan Order of Merit in 1993. 

After induction into the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame in 1977, he became one of five inaugural inductees in the Saskatchewan First Nations Sports Hall of Fame in 1994. This was particularly important in view of the historical neglect of the achievements of First Nation athletes. Greyeyes-Steele died two years later, but is still proudly remembered by the people he served and represented on the battlefield, in the committee room and on the football pitch. 

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