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Jeannette Armstrong, trailblazer in literature and language, appointed to Order of Canada



“I’m never a person looking for any kind of recognition for the work that I do, especially for the language and for the syilx culture because I’ve been doing it all my life,” says Dr. Jeannette Armstrong. Photo by Athena Bonneau

At the age of 15, Dr. Jeannette Armstrong’s (lax̌lax̌tkʷ) passion and flair for writing was validated when a poem she wrote was published in a local newspaper. 

“Very early on, I was publishing when I was still in high school and it was poetry — bad poetry, mind you, it wasn’t very good,” she says humbly. 

This particular poem — which was about John F. Kennedy —  marked the “first baby steps” of her journey as a writer. Armstrong continued to work on her craft and, years later, went on to become recognized as the first Indigenous woman in “Canada” to publish a novel.

It’s for this achievement and many more — her efforts in preserving the nsyilxcen language, her work supporting other Indigenous writers and her work as an educator — that Armstrong is being appointed to the Order of Canada.

‘All about giving a voice’

Armstrong’s contributions to Indigenous literature have garnered recognition not only within her local community of Penticton Indian Band (PIB) and the Okanagan but also on a global scale.

In 1978, she graduated with a diploma in Fine Arts from Okanagan College. She then obtained a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Victoria (UVic) with a focus on Creative Writing.

She played a vital role in the development of establishing Theytus Books at the En’owkin Centre in 1980, which became the first publishing house in the country owned and operated by Indigenous people. 

“The En’owkin Center publishing program is all about giving a voice, not only to our people, but to other Indigenous people,” says Armstrong.

In the mid-1980s, she published her first novel titled Slash. The book tells the story of a young Okanagan man — weaving together the impact of the education system, Christianity, and organizations like AIM (American Indian Movement) during the transformative 1960s and 1970s.

According to Armstrong, her targeted audience was the young people in her communities to read something that was written about syilx people and underlying issues some may have faced in that time period. Slash is now utilized in many high schools, colleges and universities.

“I wanted to make sure Slash covered a period of history from one person’s perspective, it doesn’t represent anybody that I know, but I really wanted to speak from what I knew as a syilx person and as a young person at that time with what was happening,” Armstrong explains.

“I wanted to say things about us as syilx people because I never read anything about us when I was growing up. It was like we didn’t exist.”

Canada’s research chair

In 2002, Armstrong began working as a part time professor at the Okanagan University College (OUC) before the institution became known as the University of British Columbia Okanagan (UBCO).

This work inspired Armstrong to further her education, so she could create more space for Indigenous education, research and Indigenous voices to be heard. 

Armstrong obtained her PhD in Indigenous Environmental Ethics and Syilx Indigenous Oral Literature from the University of Greifswald in Germany in 2009.

She is now an associate professor at UBCO and the Canada Research Chair in Okanagan Indigenous Knowledge and Philosophy.

Her primary research and writing focuses on analyzing syilx captikʷl (the documentation of syilx knowledge).

“I’m a very serious activist in terms of protecting the environment and standing with others that are doing the same thing,” she says. “I have always been engaged in activism through my writing.”

Her contributions to literature have earned her accolades and awards, including receiving a Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016.

In 2021, Dr. Armstrong’s brilliance was further acknowledged as she was elected as a fellow of the esteemed Royal Society of Canada, an exclusive organization of more than 2,000 scholars, artists and scientists.

Recently, she was the academic lead for UBCO’s Bachelor of nsyilxcən Language Fluency (BNLF) program. This pioneering program saw its first syilx graduates this past June.

“We have to help individuals learn the language so they can become teachers and contribute to that,” Armstrong expressed.

However, she says it took a community to achieve this.

“We’re never alone in achieving anything, we always have many others that are putting their hands and their minds and their hearts into things,” she says.

An officer of the Order of Canada

On June 30, Governor General Mary Simon revealed a list of 85 new Order of Canada appointees which included Armstrong.

The Order of Canada is considered one of Canada’s highest civilian honors, as stated by the Governor General of Canada’s website, and aims to acknowledge those who have made exceptional and lasting impacts on the country.

Dr. Armstrong’s officer of the Order of Canada pin. Photo by Athena Bonneau

The Order is distinguished into three levels: companions, officers and members. As an officer of the Order of Canada, Armstrong has been recognized for her contributions to Indigenous literature, as well as her work to preserve Indigenous knowledge and the nsyilxcen language.

Dr. Armstrong received her pin in the mail but will also be traveling to “Ottawa” for a ceremony to receive her official recognition by the governor general.

Reporter Athena Bonneau — Armstrong’s granddaughter — sat down with her to ask about her most notable contribution to Indigenous literature, some of her favorite work, and her inspirations. This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

Athena: Could you tell me about some of your major contributions to the community leading up to you being honoured with the Order of Canada? 

Jeannette: I’m one of Canada’s writers who is recognized for literature, because I felt that the way that our stories, our understanding of the world and ourselves, are portrayed through literature, is important. So that was one area. But the main area, I think, was really in the  support for our nsyilxcen speakers to revitalize and work in, not only protecting the language, but also making sure we could give language back to those who were not fortunate enough to learn it because of residential schooling and public schooling and all the ways in which it is not understood very well.

It’s not just residential schools. Public schools take away our language every day. For every child that goes there, they don’t get the language. They don’t have the language programming there. They don’t have money for it. So all of those things, to me, were important. If it’s not gonna be there, then somehow we have to try to help the communities to provide that.

So it’s the language and the literature that I’m being recognized for.

A:  What inspires you to be a writer?

J: The main reason you’re writing is you’re trying to put into words something that’s important — say, as a syilx person or as an Indigenous person, and as an activist. But you never feel that it’s done. You never feel that it’s good enough. You always feel like, ‘I gotta do the next one.’  

Writing takes a lot of time, and I’ve had to put it on hold. Same with my visual art. I’m a painter and visual artist. I have an undergraduate degree and I really love doing art but it takes all of your focus, and all of your time. So I had to put that on hold and mainly work for the people.

I’m doing a lot more academic writing now, which is not the same thing as literary writing, which I really love. I love writing poetry, and I love writing stories.

A:  Have any authors or specific pieces of literature inspired you to become a writer? 

J: Yeah, of course. I really admire other writers like some American writers, Indigenous writers. I was reading Navarre Scott Momaday — House Made of Dawn and The Way to Rainy Mountain. I was also reading Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony and other novels that were groundbreaking. Also, a lot of poetry that was being written and being published, just sporadically here and there in Akwesasne Notes and Indian World and other magazines like that. Peter Blue Cloud and his writing, for instance, and others who were in Canada writing poetry and beginning to write novels. 

When Beatrice Culleton Mosionier came out with In Search of April Raintree, that was, for me, a really important novel. And Ruby Slipperjack’s Honour the Sun. That novel for me was speaking about two things that really matter in our lives: our land and our community, and then the violence that’s going on, which one needs to not only live with, but find a way to work around in our communities. And so that novel was really, for me, it was also an important novel. 

A: How would you describe the theme of some of your literature? 

J: To tell the truth. That whole idea of truth and reconciliation. For me, truth-telling is part of what writing is about, whether it’s poetry or short stories or fiction. In fact, you can tell more truth in fiction and in poetry than you can by writing history and nonfiction. Because you have to stick to what you know. Otherwise, but you can fill in all the gaps and you can dramatize and you can really put a spotlight on what you want as a writer. 

A: Can you take me back to the time when you first felt the need to advocate for Indigenous people, language, culture and rights? 

J: At a very young age I was engaged with activism. I guess I was always environmentally-aware because of my parents and my grandparents. My grandmother was always very much opposed to developments that would destroy the land for the tmixʷ  — that’s the living relatives out on the land. She was a very strong activist who tried to protect what our community lands are in the reserve from development.

Also, my dad, for instance. He was one that said: ‘our land is important and our tmix, who live with us, and we want them to live with us, we love them.’ So the only way people are going to really understand that is if they understand the language and understand our way of being together with all the other living things and not destroying them

A: What kind of work have you done as an environmental activist and as an Indigenous activist? 

J: I have international recognition as an environmental activist. I get called to international conferences to give talks and papers and to speak. So, there’s a lot of work that I’ve done there and I think going to be really valuable in terms of how and how we as Indigenous people need to stand up for the things that we believe in. Also, the increasingly-important environmental work that needs to be done to fix what’s going on in the environment, this climate change and climate crisis and all that.

So that’s one part. Another part is, our rights as Indigenous Peoples worldwide. I used to do a lot of work, traveling a lot to different countries in South America and Australia and New Zealand, and actively being involved in speaking about the need to recognize Indigenous rights and title. What that means to me is being able to protect the environment, being able to protect our identity, being able to utilize our knowledge and languages in the right way and protect our people from the biases and the racism that is being shown.

A: What has been the most challenging through your whole journey? 

J: That’s pretty easy to answer. The residential school had really caused a hatred of our syilx knowledge among some people. It’s still present. That’s still the most challenging thing because you are wanting to offer as much as you can. 

What the residential school did to our people was to make them ashamed of our culture and our language, and make them hate our culture and our language, and make them feel like they’re always doing something wrong. If they do anything in our cultural ways, and it hurts our people, it creates division inside each person. 

A: What has been the most rewarding?

J: Well, just people enjoying our language and our life and our work.

A: Is there anything else you want to say about your literature, and how it relates to you being honored for your Indigenous literature for the Order of Canada?

J:  I’ve decided to put aside my joy of writing. And so I haven’t written anything literary seriously for maybe the last 10 years. it’s a sacrifice, it really is, because that’s all I would rather be doing. I will be able to do more of that as I wind down my work at the university, now that we’ve implemented so many of the things that I was striving to implement there. 

My husband, Marlowe and I, worked really, really hard to develop the Indigenous studies program and deliver the best that we can to bring up other young scholars to take over. And that’s what’s happening now. They’re stepping into our gap that we will leave for them so we can do what we wanna do.

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




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




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




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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