British Columbia

Athletes, spectators wear T-shirts supporting the Wet'suwet'en at All Native Basketball Tournament

The conflict over a natural gas pipeline in Wet'suwet'en territory in northwestern B.C. was top of mind for many participants at the opening ceremony of the 61st annual All Native Basketball Tournament in Prince Rupert.

700 T-shirts were distributed with the words 'Wet'suwet'en Strong' on the front

Athletes wore T-shirts with the words 'Wet'suwet'en strong' at the opening ceremonies of the All Native Basketball Tournament. (Name withheld)

The conflict over a natural gas pipeline in Wet'suwet'en territory in northernwestern B.C. was top of mind for many participants at the opening ceremony of the 61st annual All Native Basketball Tournament in Prince Rupert. 

Flouting organizers' concerns that the tournament is becoming too political, Kirby Muldoe and a few others distributed 700 T-shirts with the words "Wet'suwet'en Strong" on Sunday in the hallway outside the Jim Ciccone Civic Centre gym. 

"We are helping the Wet'suwet'en to stand for their human Indigenous rights in protecting their land, their water, their food security," said Muldoe, who is Gitxsan and Tsimshian.

Organizers of the tournament have said they want the focus of the event to be on sports and not politics. A number of media outlets, including CBC, that have previously reported on political issues that have arisen at the tournament, in addition to basketball, have been banned from covering it this year.

Attendees at the 2020 All Native Basketball Tournament show their support for Wet'suwet'en people outside of the gym. (Matt Allen/CBC)

In a Facebook post last week, tournament organizers said sports reporters can cover the game.

However, some athletes have come forward saying they feel "silenced" by the ban.  

Muldoe thinks it's important to make a political statement showing solidarity with the Wet'suwet'en people at the basketball tournament, because the event is meant to bring people together, he told CBC Daybreak North's Matt Allen.

"We're all looking out for one another and standing up for our Indigenous human rights."

Sign of solidarity

In front of the arena in the northern coastal city, people stood with signs in support of the Wet'suwet'en. 

Meanwhile, across the country, protests have taken place in solidarity with the Wet'suwet'en hereditary leaders' opposition to the construction of a gas pipeline through their traditional territory in northern B.C.

Muldoe said 700 T-shirts were distributed to people who attended the opening ceremonies. (Name withheld)

Numerous people have been arrested by RCMP for blocking access to the Coastal GasLink site as well as ports in Vancouver and Delta.

In New Hazelton, dozens of people have blocked the CN main line, which is the only route to the Prince Rupert port.

The natural gas pipeline project has been approved by the province and 20 First Nation band councils have signed agreements in support of the project, including five of the six councils in the Wet'suwet'en nation. 

However, hereditary leaders have argued these agreements don't apply to traditional territories.

John Ridsdale, a Wet'suwet'en hereditary chief, said seeing all the support at the opening ceremonies for the All Native Basketball tournament "uplifts the Wet'suwet'en spirit, makes our heart full because we are human beings and we are all together on this earth as human beings.

"I will thank them for standing with the Wet'suwet'en and doing the right thing, because their grandparents taught them to do the right thing. They learned the sport, basketball, through heart and dedication, and this is what they're giving to the Wet'suwet'en," Ridsdale said. 

Gitxsan basketball player Taylor Wale, said she was wearing the T-shirt at the opening ceremonies because the Gitxsan and Wet'suwet'en nations have "ancestral supportive ties."

"This is kind of like the one platform where we're all working together already and so standing in solidarity at an event like this seems like the only place," she said.

"When they try to stifle us for making a political statement, that's just lateral violence, like you cannot oppress our voice when we've been working so hard to find it all these years.

Although organizers of the All-Native Basketball Tournament in Prince Rupert have asked players to keep politics out of the games, many people showed up at the opening ceremonies Sunday with messages of support for Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs opposed to the Coastal GasLink pipeline. 6:30

With files from Matt Allen and Daybreak North