Indigenous basketball players grapple with absence of All Native tournament

basketball pic

February in Prince Rupert is usually an exciting time, as First Nations basketball teams from British Columbia and Alaska come to compete in the All Native Basketball Tournament.

But this year – for the first time since it began in 1960 – there won't be a tournament, due to safety concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.

For Indigenous basketball players, the cancellation was sad news.

Mariah Guno plays on Gitwinksihlkw's women's team, and she turned her feelings about the cancellation into a TikTok.

"I was pretty disappointed. It's my favourite time of the year, just to see old friends and then play against different teams outside of our northern area."

Chester Munroe from New Aiyansh's masters team was also saddened by the tournament's cancellation.

"It sucks for everybody because you see everybody's posts all over Facebook and how much they're missing the atmosphere of  All Native and how much that brought everyone together through sports and culture. And the atmosphere is just amazing to be around so many other First Nations people."

Last year's tournament was a high point for Munroe, as New Aiyansh's masters team managed to win their division.

The 2020 tournament was also memorable for Skidegate player Jesse Barnes, who was named MVP after his team won the seniors division championship. He said it was tough to hear that the tournament wouldn't be going ahead this year.

"It gives people an opportunity to represent their nation, and not only that but there's a cultural aspect that goes on as well in the auditorium every year where people sell jewelry and artwork and different kinds of food. So I mean it's really big and it's just disappointing that it's not happening this year."

But Arnie Bellis, the coach for Old Massett's masters team, said that although it's sad the tournament isn't happening, it's more important to be safe.

"It'll happen again. Missing one year or missing two years – if that's what we have to, do it's what we have to do. But I know there's going to be a tournament someday down the road.

Bellis added that when the next tournament is held, he would like to see a couple days of celebration before the games begin.