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‘He was everywhere – he still is everywhere’: The continuing legacy of Jeffrey McNeil-Seymour

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A copy of the echoes exhibit booklet, which is on display at the Kamloops Art Gallery from July 15 to Sept. 9, 2023. The featured photo is a screengrab from Two-Spirit Man/Two-Spirit Woman Call Home the Salmon w/ Help, an art piece by Jeffrey McNeil-Seymour and Dayna Danger featured in the exhibit. Photo by Aaron Hemens

In August 2020, Jeffrey McNeil-Seymour from Tk’emlúps te Secwe̓pemc First Nation staged a four-day fast and vision quest along the riverbank at Sqeq’petsin (Mission Flats area) in his homelands of Secwepemcúl’ecw.

In a live recording from Facebook on Aug. 26, 2020, McNeil-Seymour walked down a trail between tall grasses in Tk’emlúps (Kamloops) toward Secwe̓pemcetkwe (South Thompson River) as the sun set, discussing his intentions to cross the river and set up camp to fast.

Though he was enthusiastic, he fought back tears while expressing gratitude to the moon, kin, supporters and his life, while asking those interested to join him in fasting and to spend time thinking about the places in nature they love. 

“What would you do to stand up to protect them?” he asks before ending the video. 

One purpose of his fast and vision quest was to oppose the construction of the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion (TMX) project, which was drilling under Secwe̓pemcetkwe to expand the infrastructure to the south side of the river near his homelands at the time.

Amid the construction, McNeil-Seymour – who was a Two-Spirit artist, professor and advocate for the water, the land and the salmon – said there should be no further development of “tar sands, bitumen, pipeline and pipeline worker camps, nor should waterways and salmon populations continue to be poisoned by these endeavours.”

McNeil-Seymour chose Sqeq’petsin because it was the site where his great-grandmother had staged her own fast in 1951 in opposition to the original Trans Mountain pipeline travelling through their territory.

The name Kamloops is an anglicized version of the Shuswap word Tk’emlúps, meaning “where the rivers meet,” referring to Simpcetkwe (North Thompson River) and Secwe̓pemcetkwe. For centuries, it has been the home of the Tk’emlupsemc, “people of the confluence.”

In many Indigenous communities, a vision quest is a ceremony where the participant embarks on an isolated fast, where they connect with the Creator and ancestors in the spirit world to gain strength and knowledge specific to their circumstances.

Miranda Dick, a Secwépemc Matriarch, along with family and kin, was asked by McNeil-Seymour to watch over and protect both him and his sacred fire while he fasted.  

She said it was important to him to highlight the displacement of communities that happens when extractive industries such as TMX impose their assumed sovereignty.

“How they come in and forcibly remove Indigenous people from the land,” Dick said.

The four-day fast concluded with a gathering, which saw over 100 people in attendance for a salmon feast, stick games and a pipe ceremony.

Dick said that it was McNeil-Seymour who created a safe space to oppose and take a stance against the pipeline’s expansion – it was his fast that kicked off a stronger Secwépemc resistance against the project.

Months after McNeil-Seymour’s fast, Dick and other land and water caretakers continued to practice ceremonies at Sqeq’petsin to oppose the pipeline. Dick, along with others, was later arrested while practicing ceremony near the site of TMX’s development. 

“He gave us the opportunity to say no to large extractive industries such as TMX in a safe space when there was no chance to have all of the Secwépemc people to be involved,” she said.

But another reason for why McNeil-Seymour embarked on his fast, Dick said, was for his own health. A year prior, he had been diagnosed with cancer, and this was part of his healing journey.

“He wanted to say that you return back to Mother Earth when you’re sick,” she said. 

“So the healing waters, the healing clays, the medicine, the berries and the salmon – all of those things you go back to … you’re going back to Mother Earth.”

He was in very high spirits at the time of his fast, Dick said.

“He seemed very optimistic about his health, getting answers and for the future of the water, and the protection of the water,” she said.

We led from there – we took that, because it’s led by ceremony.” 

Despite his strength and resilience during his long battle with his health, McNeil-Seymour transcended into the spirit world in June 2023. 

“His passing has hit a lot of people,” said Dick.

“He reached so many people, and he was the life of the party, just a glow around him.”

McNeil-Seymour dedicated his life to advocating for different groups and causes. He was passionate about raising awareness for Two-Spirit people, especially the Youth, and was committed to land, water and salmon stewardship. 

He used his platform as a professor of social work at Toronto Metropolitan University to introduce Indigenous approaches to social work in an effort to decolonize the practice, specializing in Secwépemc land-based and spiritual pedagogies.

“He always very much questioned everything. He was an outward thinker. As a professor, I think you have to reach the pinnacle for your students,” said Dick.

“He’s always reaching for added knowledge and spirituality.”

He was also involved in addiction awareness, the Wild Salmon Caravan, advocating for MMIWG2S+, and more. 

“He was everywhere – he still is everywhere,” said Dick.

“He really wanted to be the voice for a lot of people – either their voice was not being heard, or he wanted to bridge the gap and create equality.”

In 2018, he provided expert witness testimony at the MMIWG2S hearings in Nunavut, where he discussed the impacts of colonization on Two-Spirit bodies and shared ideas for decolonizing strategies.

That same year, he helped spearhead the Kamloopa Powwow’s first Two-Spirit round dance, which stemmed from calls to action by Two-Spirit research participants in a study he had conducted. The 2022 edition of the powwow honoured him during its Two-Spirit round dance special.

“That important work that needed to be carried on and picked up,” he told IndigiNews at the time.

Everything that McNeil-Seymour stood for – his dedication to sacrifice and ceremony and advocating for Two-Spirit people, the water, salmon and the land – can be viewed in an art piece he helped create in 2018, which has found its way back to his homelands.

The echoes exhibit, which opened on July 15 at the Kamloops Art Gallery, features Two-Spirit Man/Two-Spirit Woman Call Home the Salmon w/ Help, which McNeil-Seymour created in collaboration with Dayna Danger, a Two-Spirit Métis, Saulteaux and Polish visual artist. It is on display until Sept. 9.

The near-17-minute-long video installation documents a sunrise ceremony performed by McNeil-Seymour, Danger and kin at the confluence banks of the Simpcetkwe and Secwe̓pemcetkwe.

The video opens with drone footage of the ceremony, with McNeil-Seymour stating in a voiceover that he had been gifted the responsibility of carrying out this ceremony by a Nlaka’pamux Elder while at the 2017 Wild Salmon Caravan.

“You will enter the water with the sacred cedar wrapped in salmon bones that come from this river,” McNeil-Seymour recalls the Elder told him. 

“It’s how they find their way back.”

In the video, McNeil Seymour has his braid cut off by Danger, which is then grouped with the cedar and salmon bones as an offering to the salmon and the water. 

“I invited Dayna to come and be that person,” he explained in an interview with Never Apart

“I trusted Dayna, and I felt like it had to be a strong, grounded, Two-Spirit person to perform the role.”

He wrote in an accompanying essay that the piece is designed to confront the erasure of Two-Spirit people brought on by colonialism, showcasing the re-emergence of Two-Spirit ceremony and caretaking.  

It was through a conversation with the Nlaka’pamux Elder that he learned of his Two-Spirit ancestors carrying out ceremonies when others cannot.

“This video asserts that Two-Spirit people were and are integral if not vital to resistance as land and water defenders, to reconciliation, and within Indigenous communities,” he wrote alongside Bonnie Klohn.

“The offering made by McNeil-Seymour and the gathered kin who came to witness McNeil-Seymour and Danger’s performance at the water’s edge becomes an interruption into LGBTW2S+ discourses which continue to fail to recognize the sovereignty of Two-Spirit identities and communities and highlights queer-settler responsibility to protecting land, water, and air.”

However, while protocol asserts that ceremony should never be recorded, Danger and McNeil-Seymour felt that it was crucial to document it for Two-Spirit Youth in Secwepemcúl’ecw and beyond to see.

“They are among the most at-risk group in Canada. The artists wanted to impart that feelings of attachment and belonging are to be nurtured,” they wrote.

Emily Dundas Oke, a Cree, Métis, Scottish and English interdisciplinary curator and editor who curated the exhibit, said on its opening night that echoes is dedicated to the memory of McNeil-Seymour and his continued calls to action. 

“He had a very clear vision of Indigenous resurgence, of Two-Spirit caretaking, and surthrivance,” said Dundas Oke. 

“He carried a deep love, which he urged us all to use and to carry and underscore everything we may do.”

She told IndigiNews that she wanted to make the exhibit celebratory for him and allow people to spend time with some of the beauty he left behind.

“He was such a strong presence across so many varying communities, and he left us many talks,” she said. “He put so much work in his life, and this is one project of his that I hope people can find some repose in.”

She added that she’ll remember him as a clear-headed person who was critical of how colonization and other destructive forces impact our societies.

“His clarity and vision, as well as being so loving and generous – his ability to hold both those things, I was really moved by it,” she said.

For Dick, she said that she’ll remember McNeil-Seymour as a worldly being, noting that it’s hard to limit him to just one role.

“I will always have him in my heart. The work we are doing, his words – remembering the way I want to remember him in that positivity,” she said.

She called him a mover of people – something that he is doing to this day.

“That’s how I want to remember him, how he moved so many people and changed a lot of lives, including mine,” she said.

The post ‘He was everywhere – he still is everywhere’: The continuing legacy of Jeffrey McNeil-Seymour appeared first on IndigiNews.

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Through film, Kayah George explores the nuanced responsibility of being səlilwətaɬ

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Kayah George. Still from “Our Grandmother the Inlet.”

Waves crash upon a shoreline as a screen fades from black to the silhouette of a person walking across the protected Maplewood Mudflats within the unceded territory of the səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nation.

The light of blue hour is in full effect, hovering above the Parkland Refinery in the distance as a voice begins to speak, “My name is Halth-Leah. I carry my grandmother’s name, and she carries it from her grandmother. That goes 13 generations back. I’m from Tsleil-Waututh Nation, which  translates to ‘People of the Inlet.’ We didn’t see this place the way the world does now.”

That silhouette and voice belong to Kayah George, a filmmaker and matriarch-in-training who is also from the Tulalip Nation in “Washington State.” It’s a scene from her poetic hybrid-documentary film, Our Grandmother the Inlet, co-directed with Jaime Leigh Gianopoulos, an emerging director, editor, and producer.

‘Asked to save a world that has taken everything

George has travelled globally for more than half of her life to speak on Indigenous and environmental issues. Recently, she has been moving away from the world of panels and protests toward filmmaking.

On a rainy day in November, George is sitting on the couch in the apartment that she recently moved into. The 25-year-old is in the process of “making the space mine,” she says — a longboard rests against the wall by the front door, a vinyl player with records in the left corner of the room, and her desk, nestled in front of the window, points toward the mountain range of səl̓ilw̓ət with a detailed (and full) calendar and positive post-it notes and affirmations hanging on the window beside it.

Coming from a long line of activists, George has been thrust into the spotlight since childhood, speaking out against resource extraction in her territory. Campaigning against the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion (TMX), which will significantly increase oil tanker traffic through the inlet, is one example of George’s activism work. Chemicals leaking into the Burrard Inlet threaten the Tsleil-Waututh Nations’ lands. 

At 12-years-old, a very shy George had her first speaking engagement, a poetry reading where she and her dad, Rueben George, both spoke together. From there, these speaking engagements were nearly every few months, and reflecting back on that now, she feels like she was overburdened from a young age — with many environmental organizations jumping at the chance to feature the strong-spoken young activist. Now that she’s older, she’s taking back the reins on how and when she uses her voice.

“Environmental activism is going to be a part of my work no matter what,” George shares.

“I care about the Earth no matter what, whether it affects me or not. I care about it inherently.”

George believes that filmmaking has the power to inspire action and create change, even more so than activism. 

“The frontline can be a healing place to stand up for things, but it can also be a bit jarring. It can wear on you. I feel that a creative and cultural outlet is super necessary for keeping a good balance internally. That was the point of making a film, using all the words I was saying and repeating every time I went up and spoke somewhere. I just put it in a film so I don’t always have to be out there,” shares George.

“I found a lot of healing in making a film and expressing myself, having that outlet and showing things I couldn’t put into words — feelings or thinking. Some of the themes depicted in the film show how I felt inside, and having them out took that pain out of me.”

Narrowing her view on filmmaking is what drives George, which is evident with the recent release of Our Grandmother the Inlet.

The nine-minute film explores her and her grandmother Ta7a, daughter of the late Chief Dan George, as they reflect on their relationship with water, culture and land.

Following the opening, the film transitions to a short scene of George skateboarding down an East Vancouver street with an appearance from Joe Buffalo before their paths diverge, and George is left to reflect on what it has been like to grow up facing the demons of colonization and questioning why she was “asked to save a world that has taken everything from me, everything from my people.”

In one part of the film, George and her grandmother harvest softshell clams from səl̓ilw̓ət, the name of the Burrard Inlet in hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓, waters which were once abundant with whales, herring, salmon and shellfish consistently and sustainably harvested by the Tsleil-Waututh people before colonization.

Seven hundred contaminants were identified in səl̓ilw̓ət between 1971 and 2016, a Tsleil-Waututh report found.

Because of all the urbanization and industrialization, countless marine terminals and oil refineries punctuate the shoreline of the inlet, which can be seen in montage clips throughout the film.

As the film continues, George highlights the historical importance of the inlet alongside its current struggles and her wish to protect it as it has protected her and her ancestors.

Still from “Our Grandmother the Inlet.”

A dream from the ancestors

George, whose first name means “wolf” in hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓, recalls a moment when she was sitting at the dining table in her Auntie Char’s kitchen in the Tsleil-Waututh Nation when it all came together. She had taken a step back to focus on her emotional and spiritual selves and was plotting her next steps.

“I was like an arrow being pulled back, thinking, where do I point my bow?” she noted.

That’s when it hit her, and she heard a voice from her ancestor say, “Follow your dream.”

She allowed herself to let go of what she thought might be the most realistic path and instead asked herself what she wanted to do next, noting that it was always filmmaking that most captured her attention.

“I wanted to act, and I had another dream: I wanted to go back to school and finish my degree. So I decided to do those things,” she shared.

As a child, George said she would watch films on a projector set up by her father, Reuben, Sundance Chief and member of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation. Reuben, who recently released his memoir and national bestseller, It Stops Here: Standing Up for Our Lands, Our Waters, and Our People, had also wanted to be a filmmaker when he grew up.

She has no regrets about changing course, considering she recalled being raised hearing stories about her great-grandfather, Chief Dan George, who has been referred to as “the most famous Indian in the world,” she shares while laughing.

She continues with a story her grandma told her about going to the Oscars with him. While there, Jack Nicholson approached her and asked, “Who might you be?”

“Amy George,” she answered.

“The chief’s daughter?” he questioned.

That story still sits with the younger George as a driving narrative of how her path would unfold.

Her stepfather, Myron Dewey, from the Walker River Paiute Tribe, was also a guiding force in her life. He was a filmmaker, journalist, professor at Duke and activist who helped bring attention to what was happening at Standing Rock.

She recalled when he said, “We need to put storytelling back into our people’s hands. People can’t keep telling our stories.”

Still from “Our Grandmother the Inlet.”

‘Be careful about what you pray for’

A self-described “shy” kid, George credits her “spunkiness” and ADHD as a big part of what drives her. “I feel like I have a lot of ideas,” she said.

“You expect yourself to work at the same capacity as people who don’t have ADHD, and you’re hard on yourself when you have to overcome something. That’s why we tend to overdo it,” she shared.

“I’ll schedule 20 things and be like, ‘Oh, I have a free hour, I can go to the gym, I can go grocery shopping. I can do it all.’ But it’s like, no, you can’t. The biggest message is to be kind to yourself. Today, that was something that was really sitting with me, so I wrote on a bunch of sticky notes and put them all over. I realized something needs to give because I can’t do it all.”

The reality behind the success of high achievers with ADHD is often unexpected. Though some find healthy coping mechanisms to manage some of their ADHD traits, many are often time-consuming and draining, working twice as hard as those without ADHD, which can lead to burnout and isolation. 

Before the pandemic, George was enrolled at Simon Fraser University to study her language when she realized she needed a break. She moved to San Pancho, Mexico, for two and a half months to learn Spanish — her other grandmother’s language —  work on her film and surf. 

She then began studying linguistics and psychology while working as an environmental research intern with Clear Seas Centre for Responsible Marine Shipping.

George is still keeping busy. Recently, she’s taken a semester off school to focus on travelling to film festivals and acting. In July, she will begin filming an educational short Docu-series on orca whales and matriarchy funded by National Geographic. Currently, she is working on her next script.

“Right now, I’m living out my dream and happy about that. I prayed for all these things. The only thing is they all came true at the same time, which is hard. So be careful what you pray for,” she says. 

I tell her this reminds me of something Dane-zaa, nêhiyaw, and mixed European author and activist Helen Knott said at her book launch in October. 

“Be careful about what you pray for. If you’re praying for strength, you’re going to be given hard times to build up that strength, so I’m mindful of how I pray,” Knott shared. 

George laughs and pulls her copy of Knott’s memoir, Becoming a Matriarch, out of the box beside her, sharing how much she wants to read it. 

“I’m being all the things I wanted to be as a kid. It’s so healing to be able to express myself like this.” 

Kayah and Ta7a George. Still from “Our Grandmother the Inlet.”

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Police discrimination probe builds on Indigenous families’ calls for justice

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People hold up signs during a rally calling for justice for Jared Lowndes in 2022. Photo by Philip McLachlan

“British Columbia’s” human rights commissioner has launched an inquiry into police discrimination when it comes to use of force.

The province-wide investigation was announced in late January in response to public concerns about disproportionate violence from officers against racialized people and people with mental health issues. 

While systemic racism in policing is a known issue, there is still a lack of comprehensive data about these impacts which is what Kasari Govender’s office hopes to uncover. 

“This inquiry aims to better understand who is at the receiving end of use of force by police, whether any disproportionate impact revealed amounts to systemic discrimination and what can be done to address any equity issues that emerge,’” Govender said in a news release.

Govender said she hopes this investigation will enable communities to have greater involvement in the province’s approach to policing and ownership over their information.

Investigation will ‘narrow scope’ of past work

According to Govender, the inquiry builds on previous work done by her office. In particular, a 2021 report which found racial disparities in the province’s policing system. 

The “Equity is Safer: Human Rights Considerations for Policing in British Columbia” report analyzed data from the “Vancouver” and “Nelson” police departments and the “Surrey,” “Duncan” and “Prince George” RCMP.

It found that Indigenous people are overrepresented in arrests, chargeable incidents and mental health-related incidents. Indigenous women are also overrepresented in arrests compared to white women or women from all other racial backgrounds.

The data also found a great deal of police activity involves people experiencing mental health issues, with Indigenous, Black, Arab and West Asian people significantly overrepresented in these types of police interactions in many jurisdictions. 

While the 2021 report focused on five police jurisdictions in “B.C.,” the inquiry will use data on police interactions across the province. Policing bodies are legally obligated to provide this data to the government, according to Govender, which she said will also help her office “produce some results and move towards recommendations.” 

The 29 recommendations made in the 2021 report include asking the provincial government to provide funding to enable Indigenous peoples to be partners in Police Act reform, that the “B.C.” government should make significant investments in civilian-led mental health and substance use services, and establish a robust and well-funded Indigenous civilian police oversight body. 

Govender said these recommendations would be revisited, and new recommendations would be made through collecting, storing and using data per the Grandmother’s Perspective, which centres on relationships with affected communities grounded in the concept of data sovereignty.

“The recommendations in that last report were aimed at the legislative committee tasked with looking into reforming the Police Act … so they were quite far ranging — we made recommendations about school liaison officers, about de-tasking the police, how to overcome bias and stereotyping [in police checks],” Govender said. 

“This inquiry is going to be much more narrow in scope in the sense that we’re only looking at the use of force data rather than a broader range of information, and we’ll be making recommendations about how to address any disproportionate impacts we see there.”

Inquiry follows calls for justice

The inquiry into the police use of force by Govender’s office follows concerns raised by Indigenous families who are living with violence perpetrated by police forces across the country, along with efforts by policing bodies to improve accountability for their actions. 

An example of this is Chantel Moore’s family and friends, who have participated in an inquiry into her death at the hands of a “New Brunswick” police officer and travelled across the country to share their community’s experience with the police. 

Moore, a Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation woman, was fatally shot by Const. Jeremy Son, who had been dispatched to check on her wellbeing in June 2020. 

Since then, Moore’s mother Martha Martin has been seeking police reform through greater accountability and transparency in investigations against police behaviour. 

Martin said the inquest into her daughter’s killing relied heavily on testimonies and evidence presented by the Edmundston Police Force. She noted that investigative bodies lack Indigenous representation.

“The second something happens, the police set the narrative,” Martin said. 

“I found the inquiry was such a one-sided story because it was the police officers and the paramedics — the [inquest] didn’t bring any other person to come and say what they had seen.” 

For Martin, the lack of Indigenous representation in the investigation process leads to limited transparency by the police and a lack of accountability for officer behaviour. 

“It’s an ongoing problem that goes across the country where Indigenous people and the BIPOC community have been feeling like they’ve been a target,” Martin said. 

“The transparency part is always one-sided because it’s an officer’s word against [ours].” 

The road to data sovereignty

Meanwhile, on Jan. 9, the RCMP announced the launch of its own initiative to respond to concerns about racism and discrimination by its frontline officers.

Created following two years of consultations, the Race-Based Data Collection Initiative will involve researching race-base data in order to understand the extent of systemic racism within the force.

The data will be based on “officer perception,” wherein the officers will observe and determine the identity of the people they interact with,” according to Mai Phan, the RCMP’s acting director of its anti-racism unit. 

“Officer perception is an important metric to identify whether perceived race and perceived Indigenous identity influence outcomes for different groups of people,” Phan said during a virtual media briefing in January.

“We will be using that data to analyze our impacts and outcomes for community groups in the pilot locations.”

The initiative will begin in three communities — “Whitehorse” in the “Yukon,” “Fort McMurray” in “Alberta,” and “Thompson” in “Manitoba.” Two additional pilot sites — one in “British Columbia” and one in “Nova Scotia” — are set to follow later this year.

Phan said piloting the initiative will allow the RCMP to test processes and make improvements and adjustments before an anticipated future national rollout.

Hard data is critical for understanding interactions between police forces and Indigenous and racialized people, according to Govender. Yet she said it is not always accessible, as is the case in B.C., which has no public body tasked with providing comprehensive, publicly accessible data on the police’s interactions with racialized people.

Govender said she hopes to fill this gap by analyzing data currently available to the provincial government. For the inquiry, her office has submitted an information request to the B.C. Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General, which receives annual reports on the use of force from police departments across the province. 

Her office will review this data to determine whether it shows any disproportionate impacts on racialized persons or persons with mental health issues.  

She will also meet with community organizations during the inquiry to ensure they have a say in deciding how the data about their lives will be used to create positive change.

This goes hand-in-hand with the Grandmother Perspective, released in 2020, which “answers and echoes the calls to collect disaggregated data to advance human rights.” 

The Grandmother Perspective asks that instead of monitoring citizens, we collect and use disaggregated data to emphasize care for communities through “informing law, policy and an institutional practice that is in service of — and developed in collaboration with — those who are systemically discriminated against,” writes Govender in the report. 

“We cannot act on what we do not know. This is a call for knowledge. We cannot make change without first building the foundations of a respectful relationship. This is a call to work alongside community in meaningful partnership. This is the time for commitments to address systemic racism and oppression across British Columbia and to move from words to real change.” 

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At the All Native Basketball Tournament, the AMR team faces ups and downs

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Players from the All My Relations Basketball team enter the locker room after warming up for their first plays in a high-stakes game against Gitmidiik Thunder (New Aiyansh) as the basketball court is reflected behind them. Photo by Paige Taylor White

This is the second story in a three-part series about the All My Relations basketball team and their journey to the All Native tournament in “Prince Rupert.” You can read the first story here.

In between the third and fourth quarters of their second game in the All Native Basketball Tournament, the All My Relations (AMR) team was doing sit ups. 

Communication has long been a focus, and coach Adelia Paul wasn’t happy about how many screens the team didn’t call during the match against the Gitxaała Lady Warriors of Kitkatla. She called for 10 sits ups per player. 

AMR won the game on Monday with 69 baskets to their opponents’ 22 points. They also won their first game against the Old Massett Raiders by a comfortable margin a day earlier. 

The sit ups weren’t about winning, it was about execution and doing the dirty work. It was about holding one another accountable — skills that would each become more crucial as the tournament in “Prince Rupert” progressed through the week.

Though the East Van club team started the tournament on a high with the two wins under their belt, the journey to their latest game this weekend would prove to test them in almost every aspect. 

The AMR team does sit ups in between the third and fourth quarters during their second game of the tournament against Kitkatla. Photo by Paige Taylor White

The AMR team huddles at their bench during their game against Kitkatla. Photo by Paige Taylor White

“Alright you have 10 seconds to say what some of our wins were from today’s game,” Paul said after the team’s win against Kitkatla.

Players shouted out replies: drawing fouls, intensity, pressure, confidence, encouraging each other, hustle and determination. 

After this quick celebration of what the team did well, the conversation changed focus to where the team could improve. 

The team had an off day on Tuesday spent resting and scouting games. On Wednesday, the match up was against the Hesquiaht Descendants, which would prove to test and challenge the team. 

AMR player Tamia Edgar from Hesquiaht and Ditidaht Nations warms up in the locker room. Photo by Paige Taylor White

AMR players and cousins Shauntelle Dick-Charleson and Tamia Edgar are both from the Hesquiaht Nation. Edgar is from the Hesquiaht and Ditidaht Nations, and Dick-Charlesson is from the Hesquiaht and Songhees Nations. 

They have relations to almost every player on the opposing team — made up of their aunties, nieces and cousins. In the end, AMR lost.

“It came down to grit, that’s what it was,” said Dick-Charleson in an emotional discussion after the game. 

“They wanted it more, they were hungry for that ball. I say it every practice, hunger. We need that hunger. I don’t know what switched.” 

AMR player Shauntelle Dick-Charleson from Hesquiaht and Songhees Nations is one of the players on the team to compete against family members from her nation’s team. Photo by Paige Taylor White

A final score of 55-50 meant the only way to continue in the tournament was taking what’s referred to as the “backdoor route” and entering the losing bracket. 

“We didn’t do all that training for nothing,” Dick-Charleson said. 

“We put in the work. We put in that work and we lost … I just wish that we came out and showed up to that game”. 

Once you lose a game at All Native, it means playing more games and a much longer road to the finals. If the team had won against Hesquiaht, they would have only needed one more win to qualify — now, they needed four.

But it’s been done in the past. In 2022, AMR won the tournament, in what is so far their first and only time, by going the backdoor route.

Later on Wednesday, the team met at the gym to watch the game between the Gitxsan Mystics (Hazelton) and Gitmidiik Thunder (New Aiyansh). AMR would play the winner of this game the following morning, in the team’s first must-win game of the tournament. 

After a three-pointer with four seconds left in the game, the Gitmidiik Thunder made a comeback to send the game to overtime and win.

At AMR’s pre-game meeting, the team discussed accountability for one another, adjustments that needed to be made, and deciding the best way to get everyone to come together for the team’s common goal. 

“I don’t feel mad, upset, jealous, I could’ve done this, I couldn’t have done that. I don’t feel any of that, I feel proud of my teammates,” said Marnie Scow when it was her turn to speak in the circle.

“We really have to leave our egos at the door. It’s not about us individually.”

AMR player Marnie Scow fixes her hair in the locker room mirror before hitting the court. Photo by Paige Taylor White

At the next morning’s game, the AMR team brought a different energy. Somewhere between calm and confident, light yet focused — the team found ways to be more connected before the game.

Playing against Gitmidiik was a back and forth effort all game long for AMR. Up by a point at half time, and then down 43-40 going into the fourth quarter, it was an all or nothing scenario.

The All My Relations Basketball warms up for their first game against Gitmidiik Thunder (New Aiyansh). After losing the day before to the Hesquiaht Descendants, the AMR team has to go the “backdoor route” to the finals playing additional games to try and earn their spot in the finals. Photo by Paige Taylor White

Shenise Sigsworth works her way to the hoop while AMR takes on the Gitmidiik Thunder (New Aiyansh). Photo by Paige Taylor White

AMR player Laura Lewis draws a foul while AMR takes on the Gitmidiik Thunder (New Aiyansh). Photo by Paige Taylor White

In the last quarter, Laura Lewis was on the court when Gitmidiik took possession of the ball and moved it down to AMR’s net. 

Playing defence, Lewis and others lept for the ball at the same time as several other players. With Lewis putting all her energy and focus into protecting the net, the collision brought her to the ground. In a fall that looked at first looked like it was okay — Lewis didn’t return to her feet and was still on the ground. 

Looks from the AMR bench and the crowd showed the heartbreak of the situation. Without needing to look at Lewis herself, she could be heard across the court in audible distress during the already emotionally charged game. She was escorted off the court, leaving her teammates without the player’s leadership but with new motivation to win on Lewis’s behalf.

AMR player Laura Lewis gets help from family member and teammate Brenna Doolan after spraining her knee against the Gitmidiik Thunder (New Aiyansh). The team depends on Lewis as a leader and vocal player on and off the court. Photo by Paige Taylor White

With only a few minutes left in the final quarter of a close game, AMR’s youngest player Amber Wells was able to steal the ball and score to put her team back in front on the scoreboard.

As the clock wound down, AMR held on to the win with a nail-biting final score of 61-60. 

Amber Wells shares and emotional win with teammates after beating Gitmidiik Thunder (New Aiyansh) in a back and forth game. Photo by Paige Taylor White

When the teams untangle themselves, a woman with purple hair breaks into centre court saying continuously “I am so proud of you.” Aggie Wells is the grandmother of AMR player Amber Wells — and congratulates her with a hug. Photo by Paige Taylor White

The win against Gitmidiik took AMR to another game on Thursday at 8 p.m., this time against Haisla Nation.

As the team warmed up in the locker room that evening, someone yelled out as Drake’s infamous song “Started From the Bottom” began to play. AMR lost to Haisla last year in a game that knocked them out of the tournament.

The All My Relations Basketball team warms up in the locker room ahead of their game against Haisla Nation. Photo by Paige Taylor White

Coach Paul, who is from Haisla Nation, learned from the coaches on that team. She addressed the AMR team ahead of the game by saying “at this point it comes down to who wants it,” while adding it will take everyone on the team for them to win.

As AMR hit the court, it became clear who most of the crowd was rooting for — with Haisla Nation being a beloved hometown team close to the host town of “Prince Rupert.”

With AMR’s black jerseys emphasizing their villain status, the sounds of whistles, boos, and comments like “clean your glasses ref” echoed through the gym. Up 23-20 at the half, AMR continued the forward momentum and pressure. Despite the cheers for the Haisla team, AMR harnessed the power of being disliked to keep a steady and calm handle on the local team.

Coach Adelia Paul and player Brenna Doolan huddle with the rest of the AMR team wihile taking a minute to strategize during their game against Haisla Nation where coach Paul is from. Photo by Paige Taylor White

The AMR team runs to coach Adelia Paul after they win against her her home nation’s team, Haisla, which knocked AMR out of the tournament last year. Photo by Paige Taylor White

In a final score of 51-43, the AMR team beat Haisla for their second win while taking the “backdoor route” and earning a chance to play for at least one more game against the Laxgalts’ap Aces (Greenville), which is set to take place Friday morning.

The tournament is set to conclude on Sunday, Feb. 18.

AMR player Joleen Mitton walks off the court after the team’s win against Haisla Nation. This win allows the team to play the next morning against Laxgalts’ap Aces and continue their run in the “backdoor route” of the tournament. Photo by Paige Taylor White

Reporting for this story was made possible in part through funding from the Real Estate Foundation of BC, a philanthropic organization working to advance sustainable, equitable, and socially just land use across the province.

The post At the All Native Basketball Tournament, the AMR team faces ups and downs appeared first on IndigiNews.

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