Josiah Wilson will be allowed to play in the 2018 All Native Basketball Tournament (ANBT), after he and the board came to an agreement before the case was heard by the BC Human Rights Tribunal, which was scheduled for this week.
Not only will Josiah be allowed to play, but any player with a status card that is a member of a band will be eligible to play in the tournament. Previously, the rule stated that players were required to have native ancestry.
The decision is welcome news to Josiah and his father, Dr. Don Wilson, who have together been fighting the ANBT's decision to ban Josiah from the 2016 and 2017 tournaments.
Josiah, who was adopted as an infant from Haiti, had been banned from the last two tournaments — even though he had played in the 2014 and 2015 tournaments — because he doesn't have native blood. As a result, he and his father filed a claim with the BC Human Rights Tribunal in May 2016.
"This has taken up a lot of emotional energy for the two of us, and for our entire family, and we're just really glad that it's moved forward to the point where there's been what we consider a successful resolution," Dr. Wilson said.
The doctor said Josiah feels excited and relieved about it and can't wait to get back on the court with the team.
Besides Josiah being allowed to play and an impending rule change by the ANBT, there were other conditions which the two sides agreed to through mediation.
Those terms include:
- a public apology, which will come in two forms: a letter sent to Josiah, which will include an apology not only to Josiah but also to to the Heiltsuk Wolfpack team, to Josiah's family, the Heiltsuk Tribal Council and the council of hereditary chiefs for offences caused by ignoring their support. The apology letter will also be ready out in public at the 2018 All Native Basketball Tournament
- the ANBT will allow the Heiltsuk Nation to perform a washing ceremony on Josiah at the next tournament
- Josiah Wilson will be allowed to play in all future ANBT tournaments
- the ANBT will amend the rule that requires native blood. For all future tournaments, in order players to be eligible, they only need to provide a status card or documentation from their village of origin
Wilson said he and Josiah are happy with the resolution, but he does wish the case had been heard by the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal, so it would have set a legal precedent.
Lost in the jumble of all the terms and discussions was that Josiah will have aged out of the intermediate division by the 2018 ANBT, something the Wilson's didn't realize until after the fact.
"A lot of those guys that he would normally like to play with are still in the intermediates and he'll have to move on if they're going to strictly enforce that rule. But that's okay, that's not the end of the world," Wilson said.
If they had realized before, they would have added another condition to the settlement, requesting that Josiah be allowed to play with the intermediates next year. As it is, Wilson said they still plan to approach the ANBT and ask, but either way, Josiah will eventually play with his old teammates once they advance to the senior division as well.
ANBT president Peter Haugan said the board wasn't aware that Canadian law had changed about what makes you native.
"Once we knew it was the law, then all right, it's the law. Then he can play," Haugan said.
"We have a major problem with that rule because it completely discounts both his legal status as a status Indian and his cultural status, having been adopted into our nation, both legally and culturally," Wilson told the Northern View last month.
The ANBT board only got a lawyer just before February's tournament, and it was only then that Haugan said they learned about the government's rule.
"That has changed, that was not the law before. We had no idea about this. Once we had legal counsel and it came to our attention that this is the law of the country, then we have to let him play," he said.
Wilson isn't angry with the ANBT, but instead, feels like progress has been made.
"The All Native Basketball Tournament has moved forward and grown, I think, as a result of this because they have acknowledged that Josiah is indigenous under Heiltsuk and Canadian law and that's what they state in their apology letter. I think it's been a growth experience for everyone involved. I'm just a little bit regretful that we had to go to such an extreme to get a proper response from them," Wilson said.
Haugan said he doesn't expect changing the rule to welcome adopted natives will have too much of an impact on the future of the ANBT.
Although he said they were a bit worried at first, now he isn't so worried.
"It's not us, it's the band themselves. I know the bands are getting stricter and stricter. I don't think people are going to be going out there and adopting people on purpose just to play basketball," Haugan said.
It's been a long process, but both the Wilson's and the ANBT are more than ready to put this ordeal behind them and get back to basketball.
"We want to move ahead in a positive way with the All Native Basketball Tournament and put bad feelings behind us," Wilson said, adding that he still supports the ANBT and what it represents.
Josiah's father also said he wants to reiterate his gratitude to the Heiltsuk Nation and all other nations that stepped up and spoke out in support of Josiah.
"There's been a tremendous amount of support and I'm very grateful for that."