All Native Basketball Tournament triumphs over racist past in Prince Rupert, B.C.

The All Native Basketball Tournament takes place in Prince Rupert this week, attracting 2,000 athletes, coaches, parents and spectators - but it wasn't always that way.

Tournament started in 1947 and now attracts 60 teams and 2,000 people from across B.C.

The All Native Basketball Tournament attracts more than 2,000 people to Prince Rupert, B.C. (Rebecca Zandbergen)

The All Native Basketball Tournament is taking place in Prince Rupert, B.C. this week, with around 60 teams competing in four divisions: intermediate, seniors, masters and women's.

The event, which started in 1947, attracts 2,000 people from across northern B.C., including athletes, coaches, parents and spectators, and brings in extra revenue for local businesses.

"It's a whole other level of basketball up here. It's all about your nation and your family," said Jasmine Montgomery Reid, who is playing for the Bella Bella, B.C. team, where her father originates.

Reid lives in the U.S., where she usually plays for Northwest Indian College in Washington. But at this week's tournament, her team is made up of family members and the rest of her relatives are in the stands, watching.

'They gave it their all, they never quit'

Many people at the tournament play many roles.

Sean Moore, from the Laxgalts'ap First Nation in Greenville, B.C., is a coach, a father, and a player. He's been coaching for three years, but this is the first year his team has qualified for the tournament.

"They were all kind of nervous because they've never played at this calibre before," said Moore. "I'm always proud of these boys. They gave it their all, they never quit."

Moore started playing at the tournament when he was 13. Now he's 36, he plays in the masters' division. 

"It's the game, it's the passion. You get to play ball with your friends, meet new friends," said Moore. "It's just something you can have with you for the rest of your life."

Underground way to work business

CBC associate producer George Baker, based in Prince Rupert, says the event is an opportunity for communities to gather and discuss important issues.

"This is a great underground way to work business channels," said Baker. "Who's building what, what's happening in the community, what does the community think about a proposed LNG project?"

There are no official figures on the economic impact of the tournament, but with thousands of extra people in town it's clear local businesses are benefiting.

In town, stores welcome the tournament's players and fans. Restaurants downtown are buzzing. And at the arena, people are buying crafts and food.

'Racism was a lot worse back then'

The tournament didn't always foster good will.

"In the earlier days there was a lot of resentment from all the aboriginal people coming in from the villages," said Rudy Kelly, a former sports reporter from the Lax Kw'alaams First Nation.

He said changing attitudes, combined with the realization of how much income the tournament brings to the community, led the event to be viewed in favour.

"Racism hasn't quite gone away, but it was a lot worse back then, a lot more blatant," said Kelly.

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