Status Indian basketball player barred from First Nations tournament

A photo of Josiah Wilson from a Facebook page petitioning for him to be able to take part in the  All Native Basketball Tournament.
A photo of Josiah Wilson from a Facebook page petitioning for him to be able to take part in the All Native Basketball Tournament. Facebook

VANCOUVER – A young Calgary man says a First Nations basketball organization’s decision to bar him from a tournament in northern British Columbia is discriminatory.

Josiah Wilson, 20, said he is a status Indian who was adopted from Haiti as a baby and is a member of the Heiltsuk Nation in Bella Bella, B.C.

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Wilson said he played for a junior aboriginal team for two years and was about to enter his third All Native Basketball Tournament with an intermediate men’s team this week but was told he could no longer play.

“The Heiltsuk people are really upset about it,” Wilson said from Calgary. “They’re all really mad and upset that I’m not allowed to play with them this year. Everybody’s saying why are they coming at me now after seeing me play for two years and now saying I can’t play?”

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Wilson said he went to visit his grandmother in Bella Bella last year and decided to stay and train with his team for over four months before returning home to Calgary to continue training, only to later learn he’d be sidelined.

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The eight-day tournament in Prince Rupert, B.C., ends on Sunday.

His father Don Wilson said the tournament committee claims his son lacks the aboriginal bloodlines to participate based on a so-called blood quantum, which specifies anyone claiming to be indigenous must be one-eighth aboriginal.

“The concept is a colonial concept that has been imposed on aboriginal people. It’s not part of our cultural, traditional belief system, certainly not for the Heiltsuk Nation.

“A lot of us are left feeling very confused as to why the All Native Basketball committee would adhere to that type of concept because it’s very anti-First Nations.”

Wilson, an obstetrician in Calgary, said his son showed the organization his status card when he started playing on a junior team and that he doesn’t understand why the committee has now excluded him.

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“Somehow my son’s participation was protested to the All Native Basketball Tournament committee and they responded by issuing a letter banning him from further involvement,” he said in a telephone interview, adding that he will be filing a complaint with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal.

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The All Native Basketball Tournament committee did not return calls for comment.

Wilson said he has tried to get the decision reversed so his son can continue playing a sport he loves but the committee has not changed its decision.

“To be fully excluded was very painful for him because he wants to go and participate with his cousins and his friends, his teammates, our family and our extended community that are back home in Bella Bella.”

Wilson said the tournament has existed since the 1930s and his family has taken part in it for decades. It is held for First Nations up and down the B.C. coast.

“It’s a fantastic time and it really spurred a lot of pride in the achievement of our players, and just a great time of cultural sharing and sportsmanship,” he said.

Heiltsuk Nation Chief Marilyn Slett said the tribal council and its traditional leadership sent a joint letter to the basketball committee asking that its decision be reversed.

“We’re very disappointed,” she said from Bella Bella.

“We felt that he was being treated very unfairly and it was discriminatory against Josiah.”

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