Let Josiah Wilson play All Native basketball, advocate demands

B.C.'s representative for children and youth says All Native sports event has a legal obligation to reinstate an excluded black status Indian player.

B.C. advocate for children and youth says tournament funding at risk if ban stands

Mary-Ellen Turpel-Lafond is calling on the All Native Basketball Tournament to remove the ban on Josiah Wilson, who was born in Haiti and adopted by a First Nations family. (Facebook)

B.C.'s representative for children and youth says that under Canadian law, Josiah Wilson — a status Indian originally adopted from Haiti — must be allowed to compete in a First Nations sports event that excluded him, and if he isn't, future funding for the tournament could be in jeopardy.

"You can't use public funds and have sports events and then exclude people based on birth origin," Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond told CBC News.

Wilson, 20, was adopted as an infant in Haiti and raised by a Heiltsuk family in Canada. But organizers of the All Native Basketball Tournament ruled Wilson couldn't compete with his Heiltsuk team this week, because he doesn't have at least 1/8th First Nations blood.

'A very significant case'

Turpel-Lafond says Wilson's First Nations status is upheld by Canadian law, including the Indian Act, the Adoption Act of B.C. and the Canadian Human Rights Act.

She says that if organizers refuse to reinstate Wilson, it may prove to be the end of the tournament.

"I think this will end up being a very significant case," she said.

"I'm strongly of the view that there will be redress should he be excluded, and that we should not make him have to go to that place." 

She says his Indian status is also upheld by First Nations traditions. 

Wilson spent last summer in his First Nations community of Bella Bella on B.C.'s Central Coast. (Facebook)

"Many prominent First Nations leaders and elders have been very clear to say that adoption means you're fully part of the community in every way. You're not a second-class citizen.

"We don't discriminate against people just because of their status of having been adopted. People are adopted from all manner of backgrounds," she said. 

"Josiah should not face any discrimination because of his status at birth."

'Do the right thing'

Turpel-Lafond says she's tried to speak to organizers of the All Native tournament this week, but hasn't been able to reach the volunteer officials who are busy on the basketball courts.

She says she'll ask them to reinstate Wilson. 

"There's always the opportunity to do the right thing here," she said.

About the Author

Betsy Trumpener

Reporter-Editor, CBC News

Betsy Trumpener is an award-winning journalist and author. She's been covering the news in central and northern British Columbia for more than 15 years.