With COVID restrictions easing, Two Nuu-chah-nulth basketball teams were able to once again travel to Prince Rupert for the 2022 All-Native Basketball Tournament (ANBT).
Running from April 3 to 9 this year, the annual basketball tournament took a one-year hiatus in 2021 due to the pandemic, but this month the event was back in action again for the 62nd year.
Tournament president Peter Haugan said organizers were unsure how the tournament would look with COVID restrictions just recently easing and whether supporters would still come to the event. But he said it was as if the event never stopped and “flowed along like it normally does.”
“The fan support in the initial opening ceremonies of course is always sold out and then through the week it seemed like [the crowd] was down a little bit but it picked up on the Thursday, Friday and Saturday.” Haugan said. “The atmosphere was the same…we didn’t know as an organization how it was going to go. We had to screen people at the front and we didn’t know how that was going to work, but it went fine.”
Haugan said there were a lot of close games throughout the week and teams were happy to see the tournament back in action.
“The communities are so used to having this tournament,” Haugan said. “It’s a bright light they see every year where they can come back and visit with old friends and meet new ones and compete in the sport, but also there’s more to it then that it’s a lot of culture.”
Cultural events and exhibits are also part of the week-long event.
The tournament’s Women’s Division champions were All My Relations from Vancouver, the Senior Men’s champions were the Kitkatla Warriors, the Intermediate Division champions were the Burnaby Chiefs and the Masters champions were New Aiyansh, who took their second consecutive Masters title.
Two of the 55 teams competing were Nuu-chah-nulth—the Hesquiaht Descendants in the Women’s division and Ahousaht (Maaqtusiis Suns) in the Men’s Senior division.
Mariah Charleson with the Hesquiaht Descendants said she’s proud of how strong her team played, finishing sixth out of 16 teams.
“We only lost to the two best teams in the tournament and managed to come out with three wins so we did really, really well and if we had a different draw we would have easily been top three,” Charleson said. “We had four 18-year-olds, they all did amazing, it was their first All-Native tournament and our first tournament in a few years being able to compete as a team, so I’m really, really happy with the outcome and how everybody played.”
Charleson said her teammates are all Hesquiaht but live spread out from one another, so practicing before the tournament was challenging. The team has players from Bella Bella, Vancouver, Nanaimo, Kyuquot and Port Alberni.
“Me and a few of my teammates play in a league in Nanaimo together, the girls in Port Alberni play together and luckily the older ladies on the team, we’ve played together for years, and then the younger girls, they all played together on the Hesquiaht Storm,” Charleson said. “Half of us have played together and the other half have played together and [the tournament] was just our first time all playing together. I’m really impressed how every body performed.”
A stand out moment for Charleson, who was named an All Star player, was the team’s first game against Bella Bella. She said her team played strong and took a win.
“We played against the young, fast Bella Bella team. It was good for us to start that way,” Charleson said. “I feel like it was a statement game where people knew we were there after that. All of our games were really good.”
Charleson said it was the first time her team has played in a tournament together in more than two years and with the ANBT being such a big event, there were some nerves around gathering in large groups.
“Definitely a little bit anxious, just that feeling of being in such a crowded place, I think there was definitely some nerves involved,” Charleson said. “I literally only went to the gym for my games. I think everyone took precautions. FNHA (First Nations Health Authority) was there and they were giving out free test kits.”
Charleson said a lot of people came out to watch the games and that the crowds were at similar capacity as in previous years. She said she’s also grateful for all the supports back home who were cheering the team on remotely.
Ahousaht’s Maaqtusiis Suns placed fourth out of 14 teams in the Senior Men’s division.
Sun’s assistant coach Tom Campbell said the team played strong in all five of their games, especially the young players.
“We had five guys age 18 and under, so we had a very, very young team,” Campbell said. “Three of them stood out like a sore thumb in the crowd with their performance on the floor—Gredy Barney, Russel Robinson, Qwammi Robinson and Ray August, they battled it out with all the big boys every game.”
Two Ahousaht players received All Star Awards—Luke Robinson and Jalen Charleson.