New documentary follows life and legacy of Native hockey player Henry Boucha

A  man stands on a hockey rink while two players skate around him
The Electric Indian, a 2024 documentary by award-winning filmmaker Leya Hale follows the life of Warroad hockey legend Henry Boucha. He was involved in the production of the film until his death in Sept. 2023 at the age of 72.
Jaida Grey Eagle

A new documentary that follows the life and legacy of Henry Boucha, a Native hockey player who grew up in Warroad, gets its first public screening at the end of the week.

Many older Minnesotans know Boucha’s story. He was a standout high school player who went onto a pro hockey career, one that was cut short because of an on-ice injury. Boucha went on to advocate for Native American youth. In his later years, he embarked on a film project to highlight the stories of Indigenous Olympians, beginning with his own.

Henry trusted his story with Emmy award-winning filmmaker Leya Hale, who produced and directed the film. She joined MPR News host Cathy Wurzer.

As part of Hockey Day Minnesota, there will be a community screening at 3 p.m. on Friday in Warroad. The film is also screening next Wednesday, Jan. 31, at the Main Cinema in Minneapolis at 7 p.m. as part of the Great Northern Festival.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation. 

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Audio transcript

CATHY WURZER: I'm so glad you're listening to Minnesota Now here on MPR News. I'm Cathy Wurzer. A new documentary that follows the life and legacy of Henry Boucha, a Native hockey player who grew up in Warroad, gets its first public screening at the end of the week. Many older Minnesotans know Boucha's story.

He was a standout high school player who went on to a pro hockey career, one that was cut short because of an on-ice injury. Boucha went on to advocate for Native American youth. In his later years, he embarked on a film project to highlight the stories of Indigenous Olympians, beginning with his own. Sadly, Henry Boucha died this past September without seeing his film. He was 72 years old. Here's a sneak peek from the trailer.

SUBJECT 2: Special players have that gift.

SUBJECT 3: When he would get the puck, the whole crowd would stand up.

SUBJECT 4: Boucha shoots and scores.

SUBJECT 3: They talk about the great ones. You don't have to say "Henry Boucha," you can just start with "Henry."

SUBJECT 5: He was suffering, but he didn't want anybody to know.

SUBJECT 6: He just kind of brought me back into life.

SUBJECT 7: Let's welcome Henry to the ice.

SUBJECT 2: He was referred to as "The Electric Indian" because he was so explosive.

CATHY WURZER: Henry trusted his story to Emmy award-winning filmmaker Leya Hale, who produced and directed the film. And she's with us right now. Welcome back. It's great to have you on.

LEYA HALE: Thank you. Thank you so much, Cathy. I really appreciate it.

CATHY WURZER: Well, you're going to show the film in Warroad in just a few days. How much pressure is that?

LEYA HALE: I'm really looking forward to it. I'm really excited. It's going to be the first time a live audience is going to see it. So I can't wait for their reactions and their emotional ties to the story.

CATHY WURZER: Well, you spent a lot of time with the crew and Henry Boucha in Warroad. What was that experience like?

LEYA HALE: It was really awesome just being so close with Henry and to his day-to-day activities, and following him, and just seeing his interactions with his community and family. It just was very uplifting to see how he makes everyone that he interacts with like they're the star in the room. It was just really awesome to be by his side and just see how much loved he was by his community.

CATHY WURZER: There is a level of trust that has to occur between the filmmaker and the subject. But Henry was almost like your co-producer, right?

LEYA HALE: Yes. That's correct. He actually reached out to me back in 2018. So we definitely had quite a few years to get to know one another. And it was just really awesome that he believed in the work that I did and really trusted me to take on the reins of this project that he was developing for decades before it came to me.

CATHY WURZER: You grew up in LA. Were you a hockey fan?

LEYA HALE: No. I was not, unfortunately. I grew up in Southern California in the city of Pico Rivera. And when I moved to the state of Minnesota, I'd been here for about 12 years, and when Henry first reached out to me, I didn't really know who he was.

So I went and asked one of my mentors at the time. I asked her opinion about him and his story. And her name was Sherri Lemke. And she was an awesome hockey fan herself. And she really knows the history.

So she was like, Leya, that's Henry Boucha. Do you not know who he is? And I was just like, no, let me do some research. And I was just in awe of all of the things that I learned so quickly about who he was and all the great accomplishments that he did in his lifetime.

CATHY WURZER: Oh. He had such a great story, so I'm so happy that you agreed to do the film, you know? Part of any project that you do, as a documentarian, you always learn something new that just kind of surprises you. It's maybe unexpected, you know? What surprised you about Henry Boucha as you got to know him better?

LEYA HALE: I guess you could say that when you meet someone like that, where you just see the brightness in them, in their spirit, how they treat people, how they treat people the way they would want to be treated, I just wouldn't have known all of the difficulties and challenges that he had gone through during his hockey career. When it comes to being the first Native person on some of these NHL teams and the Olympic team that he was on, he was always one of the youngest and the only Native American.

So just kind of learning that history and learning how he really tapped into his resiliency and his cultural beliefs to help him overcome some of these challenges that he faced. So it's just really awesome to learn of that quiet spirit that he had, that quiet strength that really helped him overcome a lot of his challenges.

CATHY WURZER: Sadly, as I say, he passed away last year. And, gosh, don't you just wish you would have seen the whole film?

LEYA HALE: Well, a matter of fact, he did, because he was quite--

CATHY WURZER: He did?

LEYA HALE: Yeah. I definitely kept in touch during the post-production process. So I would let him take a peek at my progress in regards to the rough cuts that were coming out. So he got to review and see quite a few rough cuts all the way up to the final cut.

And I was just trusting in him and his response. And he always gave me these really sweet one-liners. He would say, I love it. What's next? So it really made me feel good that I was on the right track.

CATHY WURZER: Good. OK. So he had a chance to see that. But yet, so sad that he passed before he could see the reaction of others. I wonder what he would think of the public reaction to it once it hits a larger audience. I'm really smitten, by the way, with the music in the film. Who did you find to score the film?

LEYA HALE: So the awesome featured musician is the famous Keith Secola. He also comes from the Ojibwe Anishinaabe people. And right when I was in the early development phase thinking about how I'm going to lay out the story, I always use music as an inspiration to start figuring out what moments I want to highlight.

And the first person I thought of was Keith Secola. I grew up on his song Riding in Indian Cars. So I just thought he would be the perfect sound-- and even his time period, it almost felt like it suited the period that we were going to be focusing on.

And when I reached out to Henry and told him my idea, he was on board. And he was just very supportive. And he was like, I love Keith Secola. He's awesome.

And when I reached out to Keith, he was so honored. And he told me that he loved Henry Boucha, that Henry Boucha was very instrumental in shaping him as a young Ojibwe man. So it just felt like the perfect fit.

And I just really love the soundtrack of this. It takes you there. And it really describes and makes you feel what it would feel like to grow up in the north of Minnesota, where Keith Secola also grew up as well.

CATHY WURZER: Yeah. Yeah. Good choice. I know that Henry, as I mentioned, had plans to create this series of documentaries about Native American Olympians. What might happen to that project going forward, do you know?

LEYA HALE: As of right now, I'm not too sure what will be happening with that project, because that was Henry's personal project. But I'm hoping that maybe in the future, I'm not too sure if Keith might be willing to maybe pick up some of these stories, because there's definitely stories that are worth telling of all the different Olympian Native people who made it to the world stage of playing in the Olympics at whatever sport that they played at.

So I'm hopeful for the future, that there might be some more collaborations. But it really do depend on the funding. And so far, we've been very grateful to Vision Maker Media, who is our co-production on this project with Twin Cities PBS.

So I'm just very thankful to them as well, because they're the leading funders of Native documentaries in the country produced by public media. So I'm just hoping that these seeds that Henry planted, that they'll definitely flourish somehow. We'll find a way.

CATHY WURZER: Yeah. You will. I know you will. Thank you so much, Leya. Excellent work. It is just fantastic. Thank you.

LEYA HALE: Thank you so much.

CATHY WURZER: Leya Hale's the filmmaker behind the new Twin Cities PBS documentary about Henry Boucha called The Electric Indian. Now, as part of Hockey Day Minnesota, there's going to be a community screening 3:00 PM Friday, January 26 coming up in Warroad. The film is also screening next week, next Wednesday, at the main cinema in Minneapolis at 7:00 PM as part of the Great Northern Festival.

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