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Indigenous basketball player Josiah Wilson wins human-rights case

Josiah Wilson, 20, was adopted as an infant in Haiti and raised by a Heiltsuk family in Canada. He was excluded from the All Native basketball tournament last week

The adopted son of an indigenous family has won a human-rights case after he had been barred from the annual All Native Basketball Tournament in Prince Rupert, British Columbia.

Josiah Wilson, now 21, had been disallowed to play in the All Native before last year's tournament. Organizers had ruled that he did not have sufficient Indigenous ancestry, as measured by so-called blood quantum. Mr. Wilson, a status member of the Heiltsuk Nation, previously played in the tournament twice before without problems.

Related: Basketball is my life: Why was I barred from playing in a First Nations tournament?

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Read more: Basketball player Josiah Wilson surprised by spotlight on his identity

Related: Player considers human rights complaint after exclusion from First Nations basketball tournament

As an infant, he was adopted from Haiti by his Heiltsuk Nation father and white mother. "I identify myself as Haitian, Canadian, First Nations, francophone and black," Mr. Wilson wrote in an essay in The Globe and Mail after he was barred from playing. "I am proud to embrace these multiple identities at the same time."

Mr. Wilson's case against the organizers was set to be heard at the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal in Vancouver, starting on Monday, but it was settled last week. Tournament organizers will allow Mr. Wilson to play in the future, make a public apology and amend eligibility rules, eliminating blood quantum and instead using a status card or other written information on heritage.

Mr. Wilson found out in January, 2016, that he wasn't able to play in the February tournament.

The Wilson family originally tried to plead their case directly to organizers but didn't make headway. Don Wilson, Josiah's father, then saw potential in a human-rights case."I felt it was necessary to increase the pressure," said Don Wilson, a Calgary doctor.

He said the settlement of the case was satisfying and he was happy that it also changed the rules of a tournament that has been run each year since 1960.

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"We've been vindicated in pursuit of justice for my son," said Don Wilson, who grew up in Bella Bella, B.C., where the Heiltsuk First Nation is located.

Josiah received word of the settlement with quiet satisfaction. "He said he always thought we were going to win," said his father, "and they couldn't say he wasn't Heiltsuk."

Don Wilson said the blood quantum concept wasn't compatible with indigenous thinking and said there is a long and strong tradition of adoption among the Heiltsuk.

"We get to decide who we adopt into our communities," said Don Wilson.

Josiah works with children at the University of Calgary, teaching gymnastics. He has loved basketball since he was a boy.

"I am frustrated. I am angry," wrote Josiah Wilson in The Globe in 2016.

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"I feel I've been singled out because of my race and adoptive status, which is unfair and discriminatory. … I am not sure why I was only excluded this year, but I can only assume someone saw a black guy on the court and protested my participation."

Don Wilson said the family never found out why or how Josiah was barred in 2016. Josiah also couldn't play in the 2017 tournament last month. He plans to play next year.

There will be a washing ceremony for Josiah at next year's tournament and an official will read the apology.

In a written apology dated last Friday, tournament chairman Peter Haugan said: "We acknowledge and affirm that Josiah is native under Heiltsuk and Canadian Law." Mr. Haugan also apologized for "ignoring" the support behind Josiah Wilson, including Heiltsuk Tribal Council and the Heiltsuk Hereditary Chiefs.

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About the Author
National correspondent, Vancouver bureau

David Ebner is a national correspondent based in Vancouver. He joined The Globe and Mail in 2000 and worked in Toronto and Calgary before moving to Vancouver in 2008. He has reported on a wide range of stories – business, politics, arts, crime – and has covered sports since 2012. More

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