Basketball may have been the primary focus, but the 2017 B.C. All Native Junior Tournament was just as much a cultural gathering as a sporting event.
One of the largest First Nations events of its kind in Canada, Kelowna welcomed 61 teams and close to 700 young athletes to the city last week for the six-day tourney.
Hosted by Okanagan’s Syilx basketball program, Okanagan Nation Alliance and the Westbank First Nation, more than 20 native groups were represented, with games being played at KSS, Immaculata and KLO.
In addition to the spirit and sportsmanship exhibited during the games, tournament director Tara Montgomery said the event is invaluable in reconnecting First Nations people from all corners of the province.
“As a committee, we talked of how this event was about a real sense of community,” said Montgomery. “First Nations people gathering…a lot of us grew up playing together and now our children are coming together to do the same.
“Youth and children are important in our culture and basketball plays a big part in that,” Montgomery added. “It allows us to come together and celebrate friendships, and really is a big part of nation building and friendships.”
The tournament featured four divisions—17-and-under boys and girls, and 13-and-under boys and girls.
Since its inception in the early 1980s, this was the first time the 13U age group had been included on the tournament schedule.
Montgomery said the addition of the younger division was an unqualified success and will be an integral part of future provincial championships.
“It went very well, we had a lot of very positive comments,” Montgomery said. “When you put youth and sports together good things can happen.
“Even more 13U teams are expected for next year’s tournament (hosted by Vancity/Squamish), so that’s nice to see.”
In the 17U boys final Friday at KSS, Van City defeated the Nanaimo Native Sons, while the 17U girls championship saw the Greenville Timberwolves down Vancity.
The Skidegate Saints captured the 13U girls crown, while Heiltsuk from Bella Bella won the U13 boys title.
More than 1,800 people turned out for last Sunday’s opening ceremonies at KSS, as Kelowna hosted the event for the first time.
Montogomery expects the tournament will one day return to Kelowna, possibly in the next five years.