British Columbia

Status Indian player barred from All Native sports event

Organizers of an all First Nations basketball tournament in B.C. have barred a status Indian player from competing, even though Josiah Wilson was adopted and raised in a First Nations family and holds a status Indian card. The Haitian-born point guard is black. Organizers say he lacks First Nations 'bloodlines.'

Committee says Josiah Wilson doesn't have First Nation 'bloodlines'

"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)

Organizers of an all First Nations sports event in B.C. are being accused of racism and discrimination for benching a status Indian player who is black. 

Organizers of the All Native Basketball Tournament say Josiah Wilson can't compete because he doesn't have First Nations ancestry or "bloodlines."

Adopted as infant in Haiti 

Wilson, a point guard with the Heiltsuk Wolf Pack team, is of Haitian descent. He was adopted as an infant in Haiti and raised by a Heiltsuk First Nation family in Canada. 

They're telling me I'm not native at all. It hurts.- Josiah Wilson

Now, Wilson's been barred from play. Instead of competing with his team and 400 other indigenous athletes from B.C. and Alaska in Prince Rupert this week in front of thousands of fans, he is at home in Calgary.

"I was kinda shocked," said Wilson, 20. "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."

Josiah Wilson, held as an infant by his grandfather, Papa Don, was adopted at five months by Dr. Don Wilson, a Heiltsuk doctor then working in Haiti. (Facebook)

Peter Haugen, the president of the board for the All Native Basketball Tournament, declined to comment.

A letter sent to Wilson by the tournament rules committee chairman and obtained by CBC News states, "All players must be of North American indigenous ancestry/bloodlines i.e. 1/8th First Nations ancestry."

'Extremely insulting'

"We saw it as extremely insulting," Josiah's father, Dr. Don Wilson, told CBC News. "It's upholding that abhorrent notion that blood quantum or DNA or birth is what defines us as indigenous people, and it absolutely is not."

Wilson is a Calgary obstetrician and status Indian from the Heiltsuk First Nation. He was working in Haiti in the 1990s when he adopted Josiah, then five months old.

Josiah Wilson plans to return to the All Native Tournament in Prince Rupert, B.C. in 2018. (Liette Wilson)

Wilson says the Heiltsuk First Nation has a long-standing tradition of adoption that tournament organizers must acknowledge. 

"We do not make a distinction between our children," said Wilson. "They're all ours. We as the Heiltsuk Nation accept my son as one of us." 

Wilson said Josiah is legally adopted, is registered with the Heiltsuk First Nation and has a status Indian card. He said Josiah was allowed to compete at All Native with his team for several years. 

A letter from All Native organizers states concerns were raised this year, and that Wilson's birthplace and adoptive status make him ineligible to play.

'I love All Native'

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

"I wanted justice for my son, " said Dr. Don Wilson, with Josiah Wilson. Both men are status Indians and members of B.C.'s Heiltsuk First Nation. (Facebook)

Josiah acknowledges his situation is unique.

"When I was younger, visiting my grandparents, my sister and I would be the only two black kids on the reserve. People kinda question me and they're like,' For reals?' And I have to pull out my status card and show them, and they're like, 'Wow, that's cool," said Josiah. "I'm black, I'm from the Caribbean, but at the same time I'm part of the Heiltsuk Nation. I consider myself one of them."

Josiah Wilson was allowed to play in the All Native Basketball Tournament in previous years. (Facebook)

Dr. Wilson says his push to have Josiah reinstated has drawn widespread support from the Heiltsuk First Nation and on social media. Wilson hopes to change the ruling through discussion, but says he has consulted a lawyer and the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal.

"I want to shield my son," he said, "and protect him from the impact of this discrimination."

Many indigenous leaders support the right of First Nations to define membership on their own terms. But the concept of blood quantum to include or exclude First Nations people is controversial. Indigenous scholar Pam Palmater has written extensively about blood quantum. In a recent scholarly article, she calls it "part of colonial legislation" and a "racist criteria that only serve[s] state attempts to assimilate indigenous peoples."


Betsy Trumpener

Reporter-Editor, CBC News

Betsy Trumpener has won numerous journalism awards, including a national network award for radio documentary and the Adrienne Clarkson Diversity Award. Based in Prince George, B.C., Betsy has reported on everything from hip hop in Tanzania to B.C.'s energy industry and the Paralympics.

With files from George Baker