Doug Cuthand: Chuckwagon racer blazed impressive trail in Saskatchewan (2024)

Chuckwagon racer Ray Mitsuing died this week in an accident on his ranch. An icon in the Indigenous community, he was 70 years old.

Author of the article:

Doug Cuthand Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Published May 04, 2024Last updated 2days ago4 minute read

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Doug Cuthand: Chuckwagon racer blazed impressive trail in Saskatchewan (1)

This week we lost a rodeo icon and good friend. Ray Mitsuing was a well-known and respected chuckwagon racer with an impressive list of accomplishments.

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He also served as chief of Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation for 16 years. He was also a member of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indigenous Nations Senate.He was also the president and a board member of the Canadian Professional Chuckwagon Association.

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Doug Cuthand: Chuckwagon racer blazed impressive trail in Saskatchewan (2)

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Ray died in a tragic accident on his ranch. He was 70 years old.He was an icon on the chuckwagon circuit with a 37-year career as a chuckwagon racer.

He was the four-time winner of the association’s prairie racing series and he made 36 consecutive appearances at the Calgary Stampede Rangeland Derby, which is among the longest streaks of all time.

In 1992, he won the Stampede aggregate and the prize was a GMC pickup truck. The aggregate winner goes to the wagon racer with the lowest overall time after the derby concludes. The top four teams go on to race for the cash prize on the final night.

Ray told me that he overheard a stampede official remark that the truck would be a wreck in a year because it went to an “Indian.” Since then, Ray kept the truck in good shape and took it back to the Stampede every year. A challenge to the racist comment.

In 2006, I did a documentary on chuckwagon racing called Wheels of Thunder. Ray was one of the racers I profiled. He had a long history with horse racing. He began his career in the 1970s, racing thoroughbred chariots for about 10 years. In 1983, he took the challenge to be a chuckwagon racer and never looked back.

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Chuckwagon racing is the most expensive and dedicated rodeo event. Each wagon has four horses and to rotate them and keep them in good shape it takes anywhere from 20 to 30 or more horses.

This requires trucks to haul them, cowboys to wrangle them, along with food and veterinary bills. It’s a huge commitment and Ray worked all his life with horses and built up one of the best outfits in the game.

Most chuckwagon racers come from dynasties where previous generations have raced chuckwagons or worked with horses. There is opposition to the sport from animal rights people and, while I can see their concern, they don’t realize that chuckwagon racers get their livestock from racetracks.

Ray told me that every fall he would go to Assiniboine Downs in Winnipeg or a track in Calgary or Edmonton and search for thoroughbred racehorses that he would train to pull a wagon. If many of these horses weren’t bought, they would be destroyed. Turning them into wagon horses was a new lease on life.

I was with Ray in Calgary when he lost one of his horses. It was one of his best horses and it was devastating for the whole team. The horses are treated like one of the family and a loss is deeply felt.

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In 2006, Ray began wearing a helmet when he raced, and it became his trademark. He said that he had a round head, and he kept losing hats when racing. It was cheaper for him to buy one helmet rather than numerous cowboy hats. The Calgary Herald ran a story on him and his hat because it was unique.

Chuckwagon racing is a sport that has been embraced by both Indigenous and Métis cowboys. Ray’s son Devin, Todd Baptiste and Preston Faithful, among others, represent the Indigenous drivers.

Luke Tournier and Brian Laboucane are two of the many Métis drivers. Chuckwagon racing is a part of our history and culture and the men and women who drive the wagons and care for the horses carry on that tradition.

In 2020, Ray was inducted into the Saskatchewan Horse Federation’s Hall of Fame and he was to be inducted into the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame this summer. He would be the first chuckwagon driver to receive the honour.

Ray’s accomplishments were many, but one award stands out. In 2010, his family was chosen as the Canadian Professional Chuckwagon Association family of the year. Ray regarded his wife Josephine as the backbone of the outfit and his four boys will now pick up the reins and continue his legacy.

Doug Cuthand is the Indigenous affairs columnist for the Saskatoon StarPhoenix and the Regina Leader-Post. He is a member of the Little Pine First Nation.

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Our websites are your destination for up-to-the-minute Saskatchewan news, so make sure to bookmark TheStarPhoenix.com and LeaderPost.com. For Regina Leader-Post newslettersclick here; for Saskatoon StarPhoenix newsletters click here.

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