The 51st All Native Basketball Tournament (ANBT) was a week of excitement, inspiration, learning, and great basketball. As the largest annual gathering of First Nations in Prince Rupert, it welcomed the young and old to celebrate sport, culture, and friendship. And food – don’t forget about the food! The prized possession that many walk away with is a jar of eulachon grease.

From February 14th – 20th, Prince Rupert played host to teams from Ahousaht, Bella Bella (Heiltsuk Nation), Bella Coola (Nuxalk Nation), Cowichan, Gingolx, Gitsegukla, Gitwinksihlkw, Greenville, Hartley Bay, Hazelton (Gitxsan) Hydaburg, Kamloops, Kispiox, Kitamaat (Haisla), Kitkatla, Klemtu (Kitasoo), Laxgalt’sap, Lax Kw’alaams, Massett, Metlakatla BC, Metlakatla Alaska, New Aiyansh, North Vancouver, Prince Rupert, Skidegate, and Vancouver. Four team divisions, and some longstanding friendly rivalries.

Ecotrust Canada had an info booth set up at the event, sharing who we are and what we do, raising awareness of our new Prince Rupert office, and most importantly, learning from the people at the tournament. After a week, I can pass on my lessons learned:

  1. Without free stuff, or a draw with the promise to win free stuff, the number of people coming to your booth is markedly diminished. Paper doesn’t count. Good thing we were sharing our booth with the T.Buck Suzuki Foundation (also our office mates!) who had shirts to give away.
  2. Cultural learning and sharing is an important part of the ANBT. The Opening Ceremonies featured the Heiltsuk Nation performing traditional songs and dances to a packed auditorium, with drums, singers, beautiful blankets, carved masks, and an MC who explained the meaning and importance of each song. As teams marched into and out of the gym, individuals broke into dances of their crest, eliciting cheers from the crowd. The social aspect of this event can not be underestimated.
  3. The ANBT is the place to watch the leaders of the present and future. The lists of previous years’ MVPs feature community leaders, and the presence of Chiefs, Councillors, and current leaders throughout the tournament – everyone from Guujaaw to David Suzuki – denotes the importance of this event. The skills learned on the basketball court – teamwork, leadership, patience, practice, and a desire to succeed – are good preparation for the real world. After the final matches for both the senior and intermediate division, the winning and losing teams stood in a circle and linked arms and cheered for both teams. The sportsmanship, camaraderie and friendship are to be celebrated.
  4. While people came together for basketball, the food presented some of the best opportunities to sit and learn from those around you came. Along with the requisite community centre fare of fries and gravy, you can find fried eulachon, clam fritters, seaweed with roe, herring eggs, fried seaweed, black cod, stir fry with shrimp and cockles, halibut, fish hash, fried bread, and soapberries. Eulachon grease is for sale to take home, and there is much discussion on who prepares the best of what.
  5. There is immense pride in these communities, and hope for what the youth can achieve. This was evident in speeches from Chiefs and those being welcomed into the All Native Tournament Hall of Fame, as well as watching leaders and community members greet players after their games.
  6. To learn about other cultures, and the communities you hope to work with, you need to learn what is important to them and you have to start somewhere. Where better than at the ANBT?

 

– Devlin Fernandes
Community Coordinator, Skeena Program