A status Indian man barred from an All Native sports tournament by a controversial 'blood quantum' dictum has now been reinstated with a public apology and an end to racialized rules.
Josiah Wilson, 21, a point guard with Bella Bella's Heiltsuk Wolf Pack team, plans to suit up for the next All Native Basketball Tournament in February 2018.
Indigenous identity and 'blood quantum'
The case that started on a busy basketball court in northwestern B.C. raised challenging questions about Indigenous identity and drew international attention to the colonial concept of 'Indian bloodlines.'
The All Native Basketball Tournament used the 'blood quantum' rules to bar Wilson from competing in 2016 and 2017, stating Josiah didn't have "North American Indigenous ancestry/bloodlines i.e. 1/8th First Nations ancestry."
Adopted as infant into Heiltsuk family
Adopted as an infant in Haiti, Wilson was raised by a Heiltsuk First Nation family in Canada.
"I was kinda shocked," Wilson told CBC News when he was first barred from play. "It hurts. It hurts. I've been part of the Heiltsuk tribe. I've lived up in Bella Bella, I've played basketball with the team, engaged with the community. Now this All Native committee is telling me I'm not native at all. I'm like, 'What?' I'd say [it's] racist."
His father, Dr. Don Wilson, a Calgary physician, challenged Josiah's exclusion and took it to the BC Human Rights Tribunal.
"They're talking about genetic inheritance," said Wilson. "But my son is legally and culturally a status Indian and culturally adopted by my home nation as well. I wanted to defend him and I wanted to get justice for him."
The Wilson family has been fighting to have Josiah reinstated for two years. Dr. Wilson said the case was settled through mediation, right before it was scheduled to go to a human rights tribunal this week.
Not only will Josiah get to play, but the blood quantum rules have been scrapped, and tournament organizers have publicly apologized.
"Very, very good news," said Dr. Wilson. "We're celebrating right now. He lost two years of play, but he'll be included now."
Settlement reached ahead of BC Human Rights hearing
The legal settlement includes:
- A public apology to Josiah Wilson, his family, the Bella Bella Heiltsuk Wolfpack basketball team, and to the Heiltsuk Tribal Council and the Heiltsuk Hereditary Chiefs for offence
- Scrapping of the 'blood quantum' rule. From now on, players' eligibility will be determined through a status card, or written documentation confirming their Indigenous village of origin.
- Provision that any future changes to eligibility rules must be vetted by legal counsel
- The Heiltsuk to perform a Washing Ceremony on Josiah at the next All Native Basketball Tournament in Prince Rupert, B.C., in February 2018. At that public ceremony, the ANBT will present Josiah with a non-monetary gift and a member of the ANBT will read the apology publicly.
'A better idea of what Indigenous means'
"We want to move on in reconciliation and no hard feelings and have a better idea of what Indigenous means," said Wilson. "I don't think we should buy into colonial ideas of what Indigenous means."
Many Indigenous leaders support the right of First Nations to define membership and identity on their own terms. But the concept of blood quantum to include or exclude First Nations people is controversial.
Indigenous scholar Pam Palmater, who has written extensively about blood quantum, calls it "part of colonial legislation" and a "racist criteria that only serve[s] state attempts to assimilate Indigenous peoples."
Peter Haugen, president of the All Native Basketball Tournament committee, said some Indigenous leaders were "flabbergasted" to learn the tournament rules were outdated.
"We realized the country has changed some rules. If you're adopted by a First Nations' family, then in the eyes of the country, you're First Nations. You don't go up against the laws of the country," said Haugen. "Now, we move on."
Josiah Wilson is working as a children's gymnastics coach at the University of Calgary.