Thursday February 11, 2016

Status Indian 'not native enough' to play in All Native Basketball Tournament

"I love basketball," says Josiah Wilson. "To come after me and tell me I can’t play, that really hurt me. It’s probably the best feeling in the world to be up there at All Native with my cousins, my family, playing basketball with a lot of the different tribes."

"I love basketball," says Josiah Wilson. "To come after me and tell me I can’t play, that really hurt me. It’s probably the best feeling in the world to be up there at All Native with my cousins, my family, playing basketball with a lot of the different tribes." (Facebook)

Listen 6:33

Jos Wilson is a proud member of British Columbia's Heiltsuk First Nation. He's also a pretty good basketball player. But Wilson has been told he's not allowed to compete with his team at this year's All Native Basketball Tournament because he doesn't have First Nations ancestry.

Wilson is a point guard with the Heiltsuk Wolf Pack team and he's played in the tournament in the past. But this year organizers told him he couldn't play in the Prince Rupert tournament that includes 400 indigenous athletes from BC and Alaska. Wilson tells As it Happens host Carol Off he's still confused by the decision.

"What I was told is that I'm not allowed to play in the basketball tournament because I do not have enough blood quantum level. I guess I'm not native enough," he says.

When asked what 'blood quantum' means, Wilson says he's not too sure.

Wilson was born in Haiti and was adopted as an infant by Don Wilson, a doctor and member of the Heiltsuk First Nation who was volunteering in Haiti in the 1990s. 

Josiah Wilson photo 1 with father

Josiah Wilson and his father, Dr. Don Wilson, are both status Indians and members of B.C.'s Heiltsuk First Nation. (Facebook)

The elder Wilson says "blood quantum is a concept where someone's genetic heritage is what determines how much of a particular race they are."

Tournament organizers say players must have at least 1/8th First Nations ancestry. Jos Wilson has none. But because his father is First Nations, he was able to get First Nations status and a status card after being legally adopted. Both men are members of the Heiltsuk First Nation.

Don Wilson says he's tried to protect his son from what he sees as a discriminatory policy.

"I think it's a very hurtful and insulting gesture that's been made to exclude him despite the fact that he is a fully registered status Indian and a member of our nation. So what I make of the fact that they have this blood quantum rule is that they're adhering to this very colonialist idea of who we are." 

There is a longstanding tradition of adoption in the Heiltsuk First Nation, where indigenous identity and cultural adoption is a very personal issue.

The Wilsons are not sure how they will respond to the ban. But the Heiltsuk Wolf Pack team is upset that they're missing a player this year.