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Opinion Basketball is my life: Why was I barred from playing in a First Nations tournament?

Josiah Wilson, 20, was adopted as an infant in Haiti and raised by a Heiltsuk family in Canada. He was excluded from the All Native Basketball Tournament last week

I've been playing basketball since I was four years old, when I used to dunk on my little plastic hoop. I played on the junior high and high school teams at my francophone school, La Rose Sauvage in Calgary. My team won provincials in 2013. I played twice in the Junior All Native and twice in the All Native Tournament for the Heiltsuk Nation. Basketball has been my passion since day one. Basketball is life.

After being excluded from the All Native Basketball Tournament, I am frustrated. I am angry. I've been preparing myself to play all year, working out and playing ball three or four times a week. My coach told me just a few weeks before the tournament: I was informed in January by my coach who called me after he received a letter from ANBT and was shocked to learn at the last minute that I wasn't allowed to participate. The decision is unfair because I am a status member of the Heiltsuk Nation and I've played in the ANBT for the past two years.

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They knew I was black and they let me play because of my First Nations status – which I have because, if I was the biological child of my parents, I would be one-quarter First Nations, which legally qualifies me both for my status and to play in the tournament. I feel I've been singled out because of my race and my adoptive status, which is unfair and discriminatory. This has never been an issue for the Heiltsuk people who have embraced me as one of their own since I was a baby and they are 100 per cent behind me playing. The members of the Heiltsuk First Nation support me playing; it is the organizers of the ANBT who have excluded me.

It's awesome there is an All Native tournament, a sporting event specifically for First Nations people. It provides an opportunity to celebrate native culture and identity. But the determining factor for who plays should be if you have legal status as a First Nations person – not the colour of your skin or whether you joined your family through biology or adoption.

Many people have been commenting on social media and sharing their opinions in response to my exclusion from the ANBT that was held this past week in Prince Rupert, B.C. The online comments show that there is a lot of confusion about the issue. Some people thought that the Heiltsuk Nation was being discriminatory and excluding me, others didn't believe that I have status. The comments upset me a bit because they are all false and the commenters don't understand the situation.

I'd like to share my viewpoint on the decision to exclude me from the tournament based on my blood quantum. The tournament organizers state that all players must have First Nations status and have one-eighth native blood. These rules have been in place for many years. I am not sure why I was only excluded this year, but I can only assume someone saw a black guy on the court and protested my participation.

My older sister and I were adopted as infants by a First Nations father and a white mother. My two younger siblings are one-quarter First Nations. I identify myself as Haitian, Canadian, First Nations, francophone and black. I am proud to embrace these multiple identities at the same time. I identify as Heiltsuk because of visits to Bella Bella with my family for cultural events, time spent with my grandparents both in Bella Bella and in Calgary, six months spent working in Bella Bella and my past participation in the All Native tournament with the Heiltsuk Wolf Pack.

Both of my parents have strongly encouraged me to explore what it means to be Haitian, Heiltsuk and francophone.

I am so grateful to everyone who has taken the time to truly understand this issue. And a huge thank you to my dad, Donald Wilson, my mom, Liette Wilson, and my extended family from all over Canada. I also want to thank the Heiltsuk Nation and all my friends for their support and for standing with me in this fight.

Looking forward, I hope the ANBT will recognize that their position of excluding players based on adoption is unfair. I agree with having a forum for First Nations players to engage in a fun and competitive tournament, but I believe that everyone who has First Nations status should be included, regardless of how native they look or how they came to join their First Nations families.

I want to play with my team, the Heiltsuk Wolf Pack again next year and going forward.

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