‘A piece of it is saving our youth’: JR All Native Tournament kicks off in Nanaimo

Click to play video: 'Junior All-Native Tournament draws teen athletes to largest B.C. basketball tournament of its kind'
Junior All-Native Tournament draws teen athletes to largest B.C. basketball tournament of its kind
WATCH: The Snuneymuxw First Nation is welcoming more than 1,000 Indigenous teen athletes from across B.C. to the largest tournament of its kind in the province. The event hopes not just to highlight athletic achievement, but also build tomorrow's Indigenous leaders. Kylie Stanton reports. – Mar 20, 2023

The JR All Native Tournament (JANT) kicked off in Nanaimo, B.C., yesterday, and it’s the biggest one yet — more than 91 teams are slated to compete.

Hosted for the second time by Snuneymuxw First Nation, tournament director Kate Good said hosting means everything to the community.

“We’re profiling Snuneymuxw in a good way,” she said. “I’m grateful to have people travel here and take part.”

But the tournament is really about the youth who are playing and what sport can do for them.

“One of the things I’ve been sharing is (that) the health and wellness of our kids is paramount,” said Good. “We’re losing a lot of our kids … trying to keep our kids on a healthy pathway is big.”

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She said the tournament provides an opportunity to send a loud and clear message to youth “they’re important, that we do it for you … a piece of it is saving our youth.”

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission dedicated five of the 94 Calls to Action to sport and reconciliation — one of which mentioned “ensuring policies promote physical activity as a fundamental element of health and well-being.”

And that’s exactly what JANT does for youth. “It’s profiling not only our children and the sport of basketball, but also health and wellness,” said Good.

“I think it’s really big for our youth in the struggling times that we’re in right now, it gives our youth an outlet.”

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Indigenous youth are at a higher risk of negative mental health outcomes and often faced with limited access to culturally-relevant care and resources; sport is one way that can help.

Participating in sport and exercise can improve mental health, mood and lead to an overall better quality of life.

“I think sport has saved (some of our youth),” said Good. “It has really steered (them) away from that other lifestyle and it’s so awesome to see.”

Kaitlyn McMahon-White is a former player and now volunteer at this year’s JANT. She said the main reason she’s volunteering is because of what the sport did for her.

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“If it weren’t for basketball I don’t think I would be here today,” said McMahon-White. “Being able to have a passion and a focus for sport allowed me to forget about other things going on in my life and being able to be dedicated to something (helped me) feel like I had a purpose.”

The 22-year-old’s first tournament was also hosted by the nation back in 2015 and she said being back feels like a full-circle moment. “To be here today, helping out with JANT when its in Snuneymux again means the world to me,” she said. “(Especially) being able to support and ensure the youth have such a great tournament.”

The tournament’s ability to bring people together is huge. McMahon-White said the love for the game and how it “feels like family” is what draws a lot of First Nations’ people to basketball.

“All the different nations and communities (gathering) for something fun means a lot,” she said.

Click to play video: 'Generations celebrated at All Native Basketball Tournament'
Generations celebrated at All Native Basketball Tournament

Snuneymuxw Islanders U13 coach Daphne Robinson said basketball is passed down from generation to generation and that participating in JANT is transformative.

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“Its emotional because we were raised with basketball, my husband and I,” she said. “It’s kind of become our life … our parents played basketball, we were dragged from tournament to tournament just like my kids are.”

In 2021, All Native Basketball play-by-play broadcaster Trevor Jang wrote an article about how basketball became a part of First Nations culture:

“Basketball hasn’t always been embedded in B.C. First Nations culture. But for Indigenous youth today, it is just as much a part of their day-to-day lives as hunting and fishing were for their ancestors,” he wrote.

“Basketball was sanctioned by residential schools, and local tournaments became a clever way for nations to continue to gather, which would have been otherwise illegal.”

Basketball still provides an outlet and opportunity for First Nations to gather, and especially after years of pandemic shutdowns, the tournament is welcome.

“The opening ceremonies yesterday were large, we haven’t been able to gather like that in a long time,” said Good. “So having everybody in one place was overwhelming … we’ve been waiting for this.”

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