Unity Amongst Nations

Rhonda Lee McIsaac

As a visible sign of respect and the transfer of responsibility, a basketball designed with Northwest Coast art has been passed from 2017’s host nation to 2018’s host nation for this year’s Junior All Native Basketball Tournament (JANT). Over 1200 athletes and 200 coaching staff converged on sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), sel̓íl̓witulh (Tsleil-Waututh), and xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) Coast Salish Nations territory from March 18 to 23.

The Haida Nation was represented across four divisions by the U13 boys Old Massett Raiders, U17 Girls Gwaii Storm, and the U17 Girls Skidegate Saints Girls, and the U17 Boys Haida (Skidegate Saints) teams. Overall, the provincial Junior All Native Basketball Tournament brought together 24 under-17 boys, 23 under-17 girls, 19 under-13 boys and 16 under-13 girls First Nation teams together. With 82 teams and over 1200 athletes, hosting a tournament that encourages, sportsmanship, leadership and a sense of community pride was no easy feat.

“The Unity basketball tournament of that size and magnitude in North Vancouver was extremely well organized. It was impressive to see such a huge number of teams representing in all four divisions of basketball coming together and competing” says Skidegate Saints Jr Girls team coach Gidin Jaad Erica Ryan-Gagne.

The game of basketball is physical in nature, and this motivates each player to increase their fitness level and size up against players from other nations across BC. During the Opening Ceremonies BC MLA Melanie Mark provided motivation and encouraged First Nations youth to achieve goals and make the most of their potential by “following their dreams”.

As a parent, Gid guu unhlaans Dan Burton attended the JANT with his son Kuuhlanuu Levi Burton, who played with the Gaw Raiders and the team won 2 out of 3 games. “The Old Massett Raiders played very well,” said Gid guu unhlaans. “They were one of the youngest teams at the tournament, but they played with a lot of heart.” Kuuhlanuu was named Player of the Game in the game they lost with the Snuneymuxw Little Sons.

The Junior Girls Skidegate Saints under-13 team went to defend their title. They were in for a tough competition with 8:30am games during the week, and a strong player sick with the flu. Jam-packed spectators and cheering sections came to out-cheer the HlGaagilda Skidegate fans.

The semifinal game against Txałgiu Hartley Bay wasn’t as tough, stated Coach Wade Collinson. He noted that Zoey Collinson had the flu and was throwing up sick when they entered the gym. Again, the team responded positively and MVP Zoey Collinson pushed through as high scorer.

“The U13 successfully defended their title undefeated and our U17 girls had their best showing since we restarted the girls program 4 years ago with 3 wins and 2 losses” stated Wade Collinson, coach of the U13 team. Coach Gidin Jaad also echoed how well the teams did this year.

“I am extremely proud of both Skidegate Saints girls’ divisions with the U17 placing their best yet in our four years and our U13 the back to back champions” says Gidin Jaad.

“Defending a title is a huge undertaking, knowing that every team wants to defeat you. We had some tough games in the round robin in order to qualify for the semifinals. The Nuxalk Nation with all their fans and skilled players really gave us a scare when we needed a win to advance to the next round” Collinson says of the early games.

In the championship game, there was “some foul trouble in this game which gave the bench players a chance to step up and help the team to victory – by six points in the end” stated Coach Collinson of the team’s effort.

Coach Collinson was quick to point out “the final against a tough Van City team which matched up well against us, with tall skilled players. We ended up winning because the dynamic duo of Zoey Collinson and Stacey Edinger along with the relentless defensive ball pursuit of Joey Pringle, the great rebounding of Kalei McDonald and defensive and scoring support of Vesta Hageman. Zoey; our high scorer, fouled out with 4 minutes left and we were 10 points up. We maintained our defence and finished the game strong – winning by 6 to gain the championship.”

The youth displayed leadership off the court by helping their fellow players navigate social spaces, congratulating each other after a hard-fought game, bringing together players at the dance or in the community, and by rocking their team shirts or tournament hoodies around T’agwan Vancouver and on the drive home. The sense of community pride in the JANT basketball family is evident in the smiles in public spaces and hugs on and off the court.

From Opening ceremonies to Closing ceremonies the Van City organizing committee put on a well-organized, safe and fun tournament where communities could come together to compete in the game of basketball.

“The tournament this year was a success” summarizes Wade Collinson, already back in Nanaimo fixing his boat for this year’s fishing season. Champions in the U13 Girls are the Skidegate Saints, U13 Boys Champions are Nuna7nita Nuxalx Nation A, U17 Girls Champions are Greenville Timberwolves, and U17 Boys Champions are the Prince Rupert Tribesmen.

Kuuhlanuu says that the Old Massett Raiders “have another three years that they can play together in the U13 division. They will get stronger and more competitive every year”.

“It’s nice to see the JANT tournament coming to the North coast and a little closer to home in Kitimat” says Gidin Jaad. Kitimat is the host of next year’s JANT and already the teams are gearing up for the next exciting and competitive Junior All Native Basketball tournament.

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