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B.C. All-Native Basketball Tournament drops 'blood' rules for players

B.C. basketball tournament drops 'blood' rules

VICTORIA — A First Nations basketball tournament in British Columbia's northwest has dropped a strict blood-relation player policy that prevented a Haitian-born man from competing with his village team.

Peter Haugan, director of Prince Rupert's All-Native Basketball Tournament, said Tuesday player eligibility will now be determined by a status card that confirms the player's indigenous community of origin.

Previously, player eligibility was traced through family bloodlines going as far back as the home villages of grandparents, he said. 

But with the recent change, Josiah Wilson will now be able to represent Bella Bella's Heiltsuk Nation Wolfpack at the 2018 tournament in Prince Rupert, said Haugan.

"In our end of all of this, the rule still states the same thing, only thing is a status card now is proof," Haugan said. "You don't need the blood as long as you have the status card."

Wilson, 22, was adopted as a child by an aboriginal family who lived in the coastal village of Bella Bella, south of Prince Rupert. But he was denied entry in the tournament the past two years because he didn't meet rules for family-line origins.

Haugan said Wilson's case was set to be heard by the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal, but the hearing was cancelled after tournament directors removed the blood-relation policy.

Wilson is now eligible to play in next year's tournament, he said.

Neither Wilson nor his father could be reached for comment.

Jennifer Rice, Prince Rupert's New Democrat member of the B.C. legislature, said the organizers made the right decision in changing the rules to allow Wilson and others to play.

"He was a baby when he was adopted. He was raised Heiltsuk. That's his culture. That's all he knows."

Rice said basketball on the north coast is a major part of First Nations culture and "to take that away from Josiah would be pretty hard to deal with."

Rice, who also represents Bella Bella, said the annual week-long All-Native tournament is a massive cultural and economic event in Prince Rupert. She said retail sales rival those at Christmas.

Haugan said isolated First Nations villages along the northwest coast empty out as people come to cheer on their teams, and for those who can’t attend the tournament, many of the games are broadcast live on radio or over the Internet.

Competition between the teams is fierce with rivalries that have lasted decades and bragging rights at stake between teams and communities, he said.


Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press