The 63rd All Native Basketball Tournament (ANBT) recently wrapped up in Prince Rupert, with the Sr. Men’s Skidegate Saints clinching victory over Burnaby in one of the most exciting conclusions to the tournament in recent years.
“It’s a brotherhood amongst the team, amongst the people of our community.”Jason Alsop, Captain of the Skidegate Saints
The game was a tight back-and-forth affair from the opening whistle. But late in the game, two foul shots helped Skidegate reach the 100-point mark to beat Burnaby 100 to 95, the 8th championship for the Skidegate Saints senior men’s team at the All Native. Captain Jason Alsop attributes this achievement to family and community.
“It’s a brotherhood amongst the team, amongst the people of our community,” Alsop said following the game.
“We want to make sure that we show respect for our community and our nation.”Jason Alsop, Captain of the Skidegate Saints
“We’re a family,” he explained. “Our nation and people work hard and spend a lot of money to come and enjoy the action, and we have to make sure we put on a good show. The players are a big part of it, but the fans are just as important. It’s an interconnected relationship that we respect, and we want to make sure that we show respect for our community and our nation.”
The tournament also saw a decisive win by visiting Similkameen over Kitamaat Village, 66 to 25, to clinch the game and decorate a new champion in the women’s division.
Jade Montgomery used to come to the tournament as a child to watch her parents and aunties play. Now, playing with the Similkameen women’s team, she has won her first championship. “It feels really good,” she said.
“One of the biggest aspects of the tournament design is that it’s very village-orientated. So the villages come to represent and have their fans come too.”Peter Haugan, ANBT Chairperson
The hometown Prince Rupert Chiefs took home the intermediate division banner in a stunning win over Skidegate 81 to 67. And New Aiyansh beat Hydaburg from Alaska to win the Masters division 66 to 59.
But of course, the All Native is not just about basketball. Peter Haugan, ANBT Chairperson, described the tournament as a big family reunion with basketball as the entertainment.
“A lot of people come here just to renew old acquaintances,” he said. “People come and watch the opening ceremonies but don’t watch much basketball. So it’s quite a mix of events. I think one of the biggest aspects of the tournament design is that it’s very village-orientated. So the villages come to represent and have their fans come too, which is very exciting.”
The All Native Basketball Tournament was first organized in 1959 by a group of First Nations athletes with the help of sponsors like the B.C. Basketball Association and Irwin Garfield. Garfield, former owner of the Empress Hotel in Victoria, liked the idea of an Easter First Nations basketball tournament.
The organizers contacted members of their home communities to rally their teams, and the All Native Basketball Tournament was born. Initially, the tournament was scheduled to take place in March. But on the North coast that is when the roe herring fishery takes place. So organizers rescheduled the event to February.
“The All Native really brings people together.”Jason Alsop, Captain of the Skidegate Saints
One of the founding members of the All Native was Russell Gamble. He also played for the Kitkatla Warriors, which won titles from 1960-62 and in 1964.
Gamble’s contribution to the tournament is hard to understate. The gymnasium where the championship games are played carries his name, and there is a massive portrait on the wall next to the scoreboard, which is hard to miss, even amongst all the action.
Gillian Leeson, Gamble’s granddaughter, said seeing her grandfather on the wall at every final game of the tournament was very emotional for her and her family.
“Everybody knew him as ‘The Boss,’” Leeson said. “It’s his birthday today. Not a lot of people know that. But there’s those of us who do. It’s very emotional. We know he’s here watching over us. Doesn’t matter the outcome. He’s here.”
For many northerners, winters can be long, dark and restless. So every February, the All Native is a welcome event to shake off the winter blues, spend quality time with old and new acquaintances, and shoot some hoops.
“The All Native really brings people together,” said Alsop.