The 60th All Native Basketball Tournament opening ceremonies wasn’t without controversy.
Entire teams dressed in T-shirts with “Wet’suwet’en Strong” printed on the front and “Unceded” on the back. Some players held signs reading “We stand with Wet’suwet’en” as they paraded through the court.
Escalating opposition to the Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline on traditional Wet’suwet’en territory lead to RCMP arrests and rallies across the country. Fourteen people were arrested on Jan. 7 after attempting to block a forest service road needed by Coastal GasLink workers in the pre-construction process.
The 670-kilometre pipeline is intended to move natural gas from Dawson Creek to Kitimat, where the LNG Canada facility is being built.
On Feb. 10, more than 50 Indigenous teams from across B.C., to Hydaburg, Alaska, travelled to Prince Rupert for the All Native Basketball Tournament. More than 100 Lax Kw’alaams members opened the ceremonies. Dancers wore carved cedar masks, button blankets, tunics and dresses. They played drums, blew into conch shells, and used mussel shells as rattlers.
As Lax Kw’alaams continued to sing, the teams walked in one by one, many wearing the same T-shirt in support of the We’suwet’en protest. Once all the teams filed in the organizers, Indigenous leaders and politicians took their turn to speak in the centre of the court.
First up was Eva Spencer, the vice chairman of the All Native Tournament committee.
“I feel sad for the players right now because right now you’re not focused,” Spencer said. “Don’t bring politics into this.”
In 2017, the committee banned all anti-LNG statements, either on T-shirts or banners, from the tournament. The previous year, players wore blue “No LNG” T-Shirts as they walked into the court for the opening ceremonies. Players, coaches and managers wearing any anti-LNG or political statements were asked to either remove the items or remove themselves from the tournament.
Despite the ban, some players and supporters stood outside the Jim Ciccone Civic Centre and handed out pink “No LNG” T-shirts.
Following Spencer’s speech, Murray Smith, Algmxaa, one of the house leaders in the Gitwilgyoots Tribe, took centre stage with Chief Yahaan, Donald Wesley, who was the leader in the protest and court battle against Pacifc Northwest LNG project on Lelu Island.
Smith applauded the players who were making a political statement with the signs and the banners. At the end of his speech he said: “We are on unceded territory as well. I love seeing that on your T-shirts as well, unceded. Don’t forget, you are in control.” Behind him, Lax Kw’alaams members beat their drums and spectators cheered.
Teams left the court singing the Friendship Song with Lax Kw’alaams performers.
The tournament will be held in Prince Rupert from Feb. 10 until Feb. 16.
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Shannon Lough | Editor
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All Native Basketball Tournament