The recent provincial tournament took place in Vancouver and was co-hosted by CapU
JUSTIN SCOTT // MANAGING EDITOR
Although Capilano University’s Sportsplex has seen some memorable crowds in its time, nothing compares to what took place in the school’s gymnasium on Mar. 19.
The Junior All-Native Tournament (JANT) is an annual basketball competition that hosts teams from First Nation’s communities across British Columbia. This year’s contests were set in Vancouver, with opening ceremony occurring at CapU.
“It’s the most that I’ve ever seen in this facility and I’ve been here a while now,” admitted the Blues Manager of Athletics and Recreation Milt Williams. With the gym’s two sets of bleachers packed full, as well as seating at both ends of the court, the crowd’s attention was fixed on centre court, where dancers from different bands performed in traditional wear. The event was also graced by speakers including Indigenous Elders, BC’s Minister of Advanced Education, Skills and Training Melanie Mark and CapU’s Vice President Strategic Planning, Assessment and Institutional Effectiveness, Toran Savjord.
The ceremony was more than just an introduction to the tournament however – it was a meeting and embracing of communities and an acknowledgment of the First Nations land on which CapU is built on. “They always say ‘we’d like to thank,’ and its just kind of a statement,” Williams said of the standard land acknowledgment often heard around campus before any speaker or event, “but this time I really felt it,” he said.
Of course, there was also some basketball to be played. Over the five-day tournament, 82 total teams competed in the U17 boys and girls’ brackets, as well as the U13 boys and girls divisions. However, while only four teams could go home calling themselves champions, everyone who was a part of the tournament came away a winner. “It gives them a better feeling about themselves,” said the coach of the Lax Kw’alaams Hoyas, Rob Hughes.
As Hughes had explained to his team before they even made the trip down from Lax Kw’alaams, which is located not far from Prince Rupert, the tournament is about far more than the game of basketball. “What I stressed to them when we came down here was that we’re here to have fun, to learn and meet people, learn different cultures from the other First Nations, and play ball,” he said.
With basketball being one of the most popular sports among Canada’s First Nations communities, it offers an outlet for youth who often don’t have many other options for athletics.
“The village really grew up around basketball and there’s really no other sport available to them because we’re such a small community,” Hughes said of Lax Kw’alaams. And as important as exercise is for youth, basketball has been able to transcend its purpose of being a sport and has ended up bringing communities together on a far larger scale. JANT is just another example of this.
In addition to the tournament’s games, JANT also brought First Nations communities from across BC together with several off-court activities. There were multiple community feasts, a fashion show and a youth dance held at the Squamish Nation’s Chief Joe Mathias Centre. Furthermore, mental health seminars were held at Carson Graham Secondary School and drum sessions and other cultural workshops were hosted at Britannia Secondary School. In short, the tournament facilitated a week-long celebration of Indigenous culture.
The tournament also allowed many of the players to realize what they can achieve through basketball if they work hard enough. “Some of those kids have never been out of their communities, and they came into a venue like this and their eyes were just wide open and they were amazed as to what the possibilities are,” Williams said, a sentiment the Lax Kw’alaams coach shares.
Hughes first started coaching in his community around five years ago when his grandsons wanted to play basketball. “I wanted to help them improve their game a bit and help others improve too,” he said. Since then, he’s seen how the game can act as a vehicle for kids who had never thought university was an option before. “They see other kids going out and playing university ball and they see the all-native tournament every year and they see a lot of kids coming back from university where they played ball and how good they are, and it gives them an insight into what they could do,” he said. “A lot of them have that dream.”
Mindful of this, Williams worked to create a program fund to offer to athletes in the tournament. With donations from six contributors including the Squamish Nation, JANT, CapU and the Blues Athletic Department, a fund of $1,000 was created and offered to athletes. “What’s great about it is that they have to apply online and they have to explain why they want to go to Cap, what do they want to study, what are their interests, all those kinds of things,” Williams explained. “So, even if they didn’t get accepted, they were thinking about it.”
With this year’s tournament now over and the teams having returned home, it’s looked back on as perhaps the strongest tournament yet. “The organizer said that this is the best that it’s ever been,” Williams said. The hope is that it will continue to grow each year and the strength of the communities involved along with it.