Let Josiah Wilson play.
That’s the cry being raised by many, including Josiah’s father, Dr. Don Wilson, after the All Native Basketball Tournament (ANBT) starts with Josiah not being allowed to play for a second straight year.
As reported last year by The Northern View, Josiah’s case is a unique one, that of a legal card-carrying Indian and legitimate member of the Heiltsuk Nation, but he was also born in Haiti. ANBT rules dictate that players must have 1/8 North American Indigenous blood in order to play, so Josiah is ineligible.
“He was really embarrassed and he was humiliated and he just felt bad. He’s a fairly sensitive person and to have something of this level come about where he is singled out to be told that he’s not a legitimate member of the Heiltsuk Nation and cannot represent our nation…,” Wilson said last week before the start of the 58th ANBT in Prince Rupert.
But the board hasn’t always enforced this rule either. Josiah actually played two years in the ANBT in 2014 and 2015, with the Heiltsuk Nation Wolfpack intermediates without a problem. Then a few weeks before the 2016 tournament, he received a letter from the committee saying he was disallowed and no longer eligible to participate.
It wasn’t a new rule, just enforcing an old one.
“Clearly, 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 said.
Josiah’s father is originally from Bella Bella, but moved to Calgary for medical school and never left. While living and working as a doctor down in Haiti, he adopted Josiah as an infant. He wasn’t about to accept this decision about his now 21-year-old son by the ANBT.
Initially, they tried to reason with the committee. The Heiltsuk elected band council signed a unanimous letter, as did the council of their hereditary chiefs, pledging their support for Josiah and asking ANBT to reinstate him and confirming that he is a member of the Heiltsuk Nation and shouldn’t be prevented from playing.
But the committee never responded to their attempts to understand the sudden enforcement of this rule.
“It was a tremendously disrespectful thing they did, not even to respond to the letters from the band council and our hereditary chiefs. You couldn’t get a more clear message that my entire nation stands behind him and accepts him as one of us, yet they completely ignored it,” Wilson said, clearly passionate about the issue.
Josiah’s father said he wants to thank the Heiltsuk Nation and many members of other nations who have expressed clear-cut support for his son and his legitimate right to play.
As a father, Wilson said it’s been difficult to see Josiah have to go through this, to not be able to join his teammates and to be singled out and “told that you are not who you are.”
So Josiah and his father have taken the next step and filed a complaint with the BC Human Rights Tribunal, which will be heard in Vancouver from March 6-10.
“We want them to reverse their decision and allow him to play and amend their rules and acknowledge that legal and cultural adoptees are legitimate members of nations whom they belong to,” Wilson said.
The doctor feels like they have a strong case. Some of the things their legal counsel will bring forward are some high-powered witnesses who will speak about the issue of legislative identity and how blood quantum is a colonial rule and should not be applied to an endeavour like the ANBT.
Wilson isn’t looking for revenge or to make the ANBT committee pay, he just wants his son to be given the same privilege as every other native player.
“My ultimate goal is to ensure that this wrong is made right, to move on without any bad feelings, just let him play.”