British Columbia

Women on the court: How the All Native Basketball Tournament went from no female teams to 14

Roberta Edzerza broke the gender barrier at the All Native Basketball Tournament in 1992. More than two decades later, she's still competing in the women's division she helped create.

Girls used to be limited to watching games from the sidelines

Sisters Roberta Edzerza, left, and Judy Carlick-Pearson are still competing on the court more than two decades after staring in the first women's All Native Basketball Tournament competition. (Nicole Oud/CBC)

When Roberta Edzerza first stepped onto the court of the All Native Basketball Tournament in 1992, she had to do it as a member of the Metlakatla Trojans men's team.

For the first 33 years of the competition's existence, there was no women's division — something Edzerza helped change.

"I was on the floor representing," Edzerza said of that first year. "I knew this was going to make some changes."

Today, 14 women's teams are competing at the annual Prince Rupert tournament, which attracts thousands of visitors from across the province and is an important cultural event among Indigenous communities in the region.

Tournament chair Peter Haugan said Edzerza helped shift perceptions of female players.

"The [tournament] committee could see that the ladies could play the game," Haugan said.

Fourteen teams are vying to win the women's division at the 2019 All Native Basketball Tournament in Prince Rupert, B.C. ((Nicole Oud/CBC))

A division of their own

Following Edzerza's historic debut, the All Native Basketball Tournament held its first women's competition in 1993.

Edzerza played for a Vancouver team that year and made it all the way to the finals.

However, she lost to a young Kaien Island squad which was led by her younger sister, Judy Carlick-Pearson.

"My sister was actually more excited for [our] win than we were," said Carlick-Pearson, who was named tournament MVP — a feat she's repeated four more times.

Judy Carlick-Pearson led her Kaien Island team to victory as a 15-year old in 1993, the first year women's teams were included in the All Native Basketball Tournament. (Judy Carlick-Pearson)

Passing the ball

Another player influenced by Edzerza was Adelia Paul.

She started watching the tournament as a young child and seeing skilled women on the court motivated her to play basketball.

"I just remember being one of those kids on the sidelines, just idolizing some of these players," said Paul.

Now, she is a two-time women's division champion with the Haisla Sr. Ladies team out of Kitamaat Village.

Paul also teaches at basketball camps and coaches a U-17 girls team, in order to help develop the next generation of players.

"There's actually girls on my team that I'm playing against in this tournament," she said. "It's pretty cool to see that."

Roberta Edzerza broke the gender barrier at the All Native Basketball Tournament in 1992. More than two decades later, she's still competing on the court and helping the next generation of female players develop. 4:33

'Now I'm playing for other young girls'

More than two decades after the women's division began, both Carlick-Pearson and Edzerza are still playing as members of the Prince Rupert Rain.

Carlick-Pearson is thankful that her sister helped push for female representation at the All Native Tournament.

"It had a big impact on my life when [Roberta] actually initiated that women should play," Carlick-Pearson said. "She was the first person to actually make that happen for all of us."

Roberta Edzerza's passion for basketball remains strong more than 25 years after breaking the gender barrier at the All Native Basketball Tournament. (Nicole Oud/CBC)

As a starting player for her team, Edzerza is not only working to win a championship but also to help her younger teammates grow and develop.

"It used to be about myself years ago, but now I'm playing for other young girls."

All week, CBC's Nicole Oud is covering the All Native Basketball Tournament which runs Feb. 10-16, 2019. Tune into CBC Radio One's Daybreak North to hear more.

About the Author

Nicole Oud

@Nicole_Oud

Nicole Oud is a journalist with CBC British Columbia. You can email her at nicole.oud@cbc.ca.