Players past and present reflect on inspirational power of Junior All Native basketball tournament
2023 tournament began in Nanaimo on Sunday, runs until Friday
The Junior All Native Tournament (JANT) kicked off Sunday night in Nanaimo, B.C., with 91 teams from nations across the province gathered for the largest iteration of the youth basketball tournament yet, organizers say.
For Kaitlyn McMahon-White, it's a chance to give back as she volunteers at the event for the first time, having competed twice before, in 2017 and 2018.
Now in her early 20s, and with this year's tournament hosted on her home Snuneymuxw First Nation territory, she says she wants to help make sure it runs smoothly for the next generation of players.
McMahon-White says she knows first hand how the tournament can have a positive impact on Indigenous youth, saying that her participation at JANT saved her life.
Having been in and out of care as a kid, the support she got from her community to send her to these tournaments, as well as the drive to compete, allowed her to keep moving forward, she said.
She came to JANT relatively late in the game, first competing at age 16, but she said her two years at the tournament were transformational.
"Growing up, being able to be involved on a sports team, and travel for sports was super motivating for me, because before that, I didn't really have anything," said McMahon-White.
"Being around so many other youth who were very passionate about the same thing, it allowed me to keep going forward. And I think if I didn't have that opportunity, I wouldn't be standing here today with you."
Uplifting Indigenous youth
Jayden Thomas, 17, has competed at JANT in the past for the U17 Snuneymuxw Native Sons, who will be going for the championship on home territory this year. In his final year of eligibility, he says sport has taken him far.
He says he's seen the effect that investing in tournaments like JANT has had on other athletes and how it helps sports grow within communities.
Some of his teammates were inspired to take up basketball after watching the Native Sons at JANT in Kelowna last year. They're now competing alongside Thomas, who says they're "excited but nervous."
Having the tournament on home territory makes this year special, he said.
"It means a lot to have it at home, especially because we're expected to take it home this year, and I think we will. I've never seen the tournament this big before," he said.
McMahon-White says she's happy to see the development of the girls program for Snuneymuxw, which has a U13 girls team competing this year.
In the past she had to play for different nations in order to compete.
"I think it's just so important for the youth to be able to be involved in something as big as this," she said.
U13 girls coach Daphne Robinson says she wants to encourage her team to play hard, just like the boys, because important for them to have that opportunity too.
"We try to teach them that it's OK to compete and play hard and play aggressive, and be proud of just trying the sport and trying to compete," Robinson said.
Uplifting Indigenous youth and culture
As hosts, the Snuneymuxw First Nation is pulling out all the stops to make the event as memorable as possible — going so far as to bring in help from the Toronto Raptors for promotions and social media.
Partners from across the community have come together to put on the tournament, including the City of Nanaimo and the Nanaimo-Ladysmith School District. Several sponsors have stepped up to ensure the event is free to anyone who wants to attend.
"I think it's just one more way to sort of lift up indigenous culture through sport. And I think that's really important," said school district superintendent Scott Saywell.
In the Truth and Reconciliation Report of 2015, sport and recreation were identified as tools for social development to improve the health and well-being of individuals and communities.
JANT runs until Friday, when the championship games are due to be played. Games are being held at six different locations across Nanaimo.