Metlakatla, Alaska, used to be a staple at the All Native Basketball Tournament, but recent changes to the ferry schedule have caused them to lose their spot in the famous event.
The Alaska Marine Highway System, AMHS, used to run twice a week from Ketchikan, Alaska to Prince Rupert – perfect for the teams representing the Metlakatla nation to come and go to the tournament with ease.
Metlakatla sent teams in all four divisions as well as many fans and people from their villages to come and support their teams. Although the trip was still somewhat expensive its price tag was nowhere near the exorbitant price it would be today.
The AMHS costs around $130 USD per player, so to send four teams would cost Metlakatla approximately $5,200 USD. The problem for the team is not the price of the ferry – it’s the frequency of trips. The same ferry that would make that trip twice weekly, is now making the trip only once every two weeks.
Vanessa Anniskett, a member of the Metlakatla team, has been at the forefront of fundraising and organizing trips across the pond to play at the tournament, a trip that has simply become unaffordable.
“Now with AMHS cutbacks in the past years there is no way for our teams to make it over – we miss out because our teams need to qualify also. No one can take two weeks off for qualifying and then two more weeks if you qualify to make the tournament, let alone hotel costs for two weeks,” Anniskett said.
Vera James, All Native Basketball Hall-of-Famer, spent her playing days taking the ferry across and doesn’t understand where this change to the schedule comes from.
“We used to have no problems going over for All Native, they used to change the schedule and it was easily accessible for us every year,” James said.
For James’ Hall of Fame induction ceremony, the team chartered a catamaran to take them and their dance group, who were performing at the opening ceremonies, to the tournament. Even after they sold seats on the boat to other teams from Alaska the cost was still too much to bear.
“That charter cost us $30,000 Canadian, and we will never do it again,” Anniskett said.
Although James’ playing days may be behind her she knows that the younger generations of Metlakatla are missing out on experiencing the tournament she fell in love with.
“It is very frustrating. My eldest son just started attending the tournament, so now he’s got the thirst for the tournament, but now we don’t have a way to get there that won’t cost us an arm and a leg,” James said.
Although they can’t attend the tournament they love, they harbour no ill feelings towards it and just want to make it back.
“It doesn’t sour the view for the tournament, the hunger to go is still there, and people talk about wanting to go all the time,” James said.
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