59th All Native Opening Ceremonies. Shannon Lough photo

Gitxsan drive to the hoop in All-Native Basketball Tournament

The Mystics women's team look to repeat as champions as part of large Gitxsan contingent.

Most outside of northwest B.C. don’t think of basketball right off the bat when we think of all-native sports. They might be more likely to think of more traditional sports like lacrosse or canoe racing.

That is certainly not the case, however. One of the biggest sporting events for First Nations communities has become the All-Native Basketball Tournament in Prince Rupert and that particular event has become very popular, especially amongst local groups.

The big tournament started with opening ceremonies last weekend and ends this weekend.

According to Roland Wright, who plays for the Hazelton Gitxsan team, over the years basketball has become very popular and the players have become very capable.

“We might not have the best facilities in the world be we use what we have and we’ve developed some pretty good skills,” he said.

Hazelton, for example, has a number of teams entered and if past performance is any indication there should be some excellent results at the end of the contest.

His partner Carlene Wright, who has played on the women’s side for a number of years, feels that the Gitxsan Mystics team from Hazelton she plays for will be the one to beat again this year.

“We won the whole thing last year and we’re looking to repeat again this year,” she said.

The tournament has been going on for 59 years now and keeps bringing back a high level of skill and competition to the event.

Teams from the northwest of B.C., southern B.C. and southeast Alaska have been preparing for the competition since last year’s version and now can hardly wait to get out on the court to demonstrate their skill.

Wright said that while the team cannot practice together as regular a basis as school teams, when they do get together, the time is well spent.

“Lots of the players have jobs that take them away from home for weeks at a time,” she said. “It’s just the way lots of those jobs are.”

In that situation, one of the top players of the Prince Rupert team has been under scrutiny . Another team has suggested that he not be eligible because he is not a full time resident of the community. His eligibility was not confirmed at press time.

In another case, the defending team from Hydaberg, Alaska was allowed to play the qualifying round with only five players. Some questions were asked since the team had no substitute players available.

Because most of the teams come from small communities of the Northwest, teams from the south have some special rules they must adhere to. Players from these teams must play a minimum number of games with their team in order that it does not become an all-star squad.

All players must be able to prove their First Nation’s lineage.

Players will compete in four divisions: Masters, Senior, Intermediate and Women’s.

Carlene Wright said that she has been impressed with the way that community members have been getting out to support the team at the tournament.

“It makes me feel very proud to be part of the community when I see them show up to cheer us on the way they have over the years,” she said.

sports@interior-news.com

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