As It Happens

[UPDATED] All Native basketball tournament reinstates adopted player, drops 'bloodline' rule

All Native Basketball apologizes and reinstates status Indian player adopted by Heiltsuk family.
"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)

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Update Mar. 7, 2017: Josiah Wilson, a status Indian man originally barred from an All Native Basketball Tournament because of a "blood quantum" rule, is now eligible to play after the tournament agreed to drop the rule. The settlement comes ahead of a British Columbia Human Rights hearing, brought forward by Josiah's father, Don Wilson. 

"He has multiple identities but I don't think they cancel each other out — his indigenous heritage is no less valid just because he has these other identities," Don Wilson tells As It Happens guest host Susan Bonner.

"As the Heiltsuk Nation, this has been the message that we've been trying to convey through this entire process that since the time he was a baby he's been accepted as one of us. This settlement has justified our argument in the end."

Listen to our most recent interview here:

The settlement includes: 

  • A public apology to Josiah Wilson, his family, the Bella Bella Heiltsuk Wolfpack basketball team, and to the Heiltsuk Tribal Council and the Heiltsuk Hereditary Chiefs for offence
  • Scrapping of the 'blood quantum' rule. From now on, players' eligibility will be determined through a status card, or written documentation confirming their Indigenous village of origin.
  • Provision that any future changes to eligibility rules must be vetted by legal counsel 
  • The Heiltsuk to perform a Washing Ceremony on Josiah at the next All Native Basketball Tournament in Prince Rupert, B.C., in February 2018. At that public ceremony, the ANBT will present Josiah with a non-monetary gift and a member of the ANBT will read the apology publicly. 

This story first aired on Feb. 11, 2016.

Jos Wilson is a proud member of British Columbia's Heiltsuk First Nation. He's also a pretty good basketball player. But Wilson has been told he's not allowed to compete with his team at this year's All Native Basketball Tournament because he doesn't have First Nations ancestry.

Wilson is a point guard with the Heiltsuk Wolf Pack team and he's played in the tournament in the past. But this year organizers told him he couldn't play in the Prince Rupert tournament that includes 400 indigenous athletes from BC and Alaska. Wilson tells As it Happens host Carol Off he's still confused by the decision.

"What I was told is that I'm not allowed to play in the basketball tournament because I do not have enough blood quantum level. I guess I'm not native enough," he says.
Don Wilson says his son was discriminated against based on race, family status, colour and place of origin. (Trevor Jang)

When asked what 'blood quantum' means, Wilson says he's not too sure.

Wilson was born in Haiti and was adopted as an infant by Don Wilson, a doctor and member of the Heiltsuk First Nation who was volunteering in Haiti in the 1990s. 

The elder Wilson says "blood quantum is a concept where someone's genetic heritage is what determines how much of a particular race they are."

Tournament organizers say players must have at least 1/8th First Nations ancestry. Jos Wilson has none. But because his father is First Nations, he was able to get First Nations status and a status card after being legally adopted. Both men are members of the Heiltsuk First Nation.
Josiah Wilson as an infant in Haiti, held by his soon-to-be grandfather Papa Don just months before his adoption. (Pamela Wilson/Facebook)

Don Wilson says he's tried to protect his son from what he sees as a discriminatory policy.

"I think it's a very hurtful and insulting gesture that's been made to exclude him despite the fact that he is a fully registered status Indian and a member of our nation. So what I make of the fact that they have this blood quantum rule is that they're adhering to this very colonialist idea of who we are." 

There is a longstanding tradition of adoption in the Heiltsuk First Nation, where indigenous identity and cultural adoption is a very personal issue.

The Wilsons are not sure how they will respond to the ban. But the Heiltsuk Wolf Pack team is upset that they're missing a player this year.

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