Human rights complaint launched against All-Native basketball tournament committee

The question of Josiah Wilson’s Indigenous identity is at the centre of a human rights case launched against an All-Native sports event in northwestern B.C. after the adoptee was banned from participating earlier this year.

Josiah Wilson's father hopes to set precedent for other First Nation adoptees

Don Wilson says his son was discriminated against based on race, family status, colour and place of origin after being banned from an All-Native basketball tournament last February. The 20-year-old from Haiti was adopted as a baby and holds a status card. (Trevor Jang)

He has a status card, but no Aboriginal bloodlines.

The question of Josiah Wilson's Indigenous identity is at the centre of a human rights case launched against an All-Native sports event in northwestern B.C. after he was banned from participating earlier this year.

Josiah was banned from the annual basketball tournament in Prince Rupert, B.C., in February for not having at least 1/8th First Nations ancestry or "blood quantum." The 20-year-old is of Haitian descent and was adopted as an infant by a Heiltsuk First Nations father and a white mother.

The complaint was launched by Josiah's adoptive father, who is hoping the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal will force the All-Native Basketball Tournament committee to amend their rules and let adoptees play.

Don Wilson claims his son was discriminated against based on race, place of origin, colour and family status. Section 8 of the B.C. Human Rights Code states that a person cannot be denied accommodation in a service or facility based on such grounds.

"I think it's a travesty that we've been affected by this concept of legislated identity. It's a colonial concept of who is Indigenous," said Wilson, a Calgary-based obstetrician and member of the Heiltsuk Nation from Bella Bella, B.C.

Setting a precedent

Wilson says while the number 1 priority is for his son to be allowed to play in the tournament, he also hopes a ruling in their favour will set a precedent to protect other adoptees with Indian status from facing discrimination in the future.
Josiah Wilson, as an infant in Haiti, is held by his soon-to-be grandfather Papa Don just months before his adoption. (Pamela Wilson/Facebook)

"It certainly has opened a can of worms. It started a conversation around what makes a person Indigenous, and I think that's an important thing to discuss."

He's also demanding a written apology from the tournament committee.

"The demands seem very reasonable. They're the types of demands I've often seen met in human rights tribunal cases," said Patricia Barkaskas, academic director of the Indigenous Community Legal Clinic in Vancouver.

"Should the tribunal decide in their favour … it creates a very positive framework in which people who are adopted into nations, or who are being regulated out of opportunities because of blood quantum, might have an opportunity to use that [decision] to support their claims," she said.

Members of the All-Native Basketball Tournament committee are currently seeking legal advice and have declined to comment.

'It's my identity'

"It hurt, being told by somebody else that I'm not what I am. It's my identity. To be told I'm not Heiltsuk, you can't really tell me that," said Josiah, who has played in the tournament before.

He spent two years with the Heiltsuk Wolfpack intermediate team and played in two junior All-Native tournaments.

Josiah Wilson (centre-right) with adoptive siblings Teva, Arianne and biological sister Mariah. (Pamela Wilson/Facebook)
"I was very proud. It was a lot of fun. I was very happy that my parents and family helped me fundraise so I could get out there and play with my family," he said.

Wilson says his son was ceremonially adopted into the Heiltsuk Nation at a traditional feast in Bella Bella, B.C. He adds it's a practice that has gone on for thousands of years in Heiltsuk culture.

"Not only has he been legally adopted, he is culturally adopted and accepted as well. So it's a real insult and painful thing to be told that that side of us is not legitimate, especially coming from an Indigenous-run organization," said Wilson.

He is a member of our nation in the eyes of our nation.- Don Wilson, Josiah Wilson's father

The popular tournament draws more than 400 Indigenous athletes from B.C. and Alaska to Prince Rupert for a week each February, along with thousands of fans. Wilson says the event is "an amazing opportunity for people to get together and connect with relatives who live in different places" and it's important for his son to maintain a cultural connection to the Heiltsuk.

"He is a member of our nation in the eyes of our nation. He loves the game, he's got the skills and his teammates love having him. He's forged an amazing friendship with his coach. I think it's a very positive opportunity for him and it's very hard to see him denied that," he said.

Wilson hopes to have the tribunal hearing concluded in time for next year's tournament.


Trevor Jang is a recipient of the 2016 CJF Aboriginal Journalism Fellowship. He is an award-winning writer and broadcast journalist based in Vancouver, BC. Trevor is from northwestern British Columbia and is a mix of Wet'suwet'en Nation and Chinese descent.