The Junior All Native Tournament (JANT) kicked off in Snuneymuxw territories on Sunday evening with an opening ceremony and celebration hosted by the First Nation.
Guests were welcomed to Frank Crane Arena by Snuneymuxw Councillor Bill Yoachim. Before the Youth athletes entered the building, a prayer was offered by Snuneymuxw Elder Lolly Good, who gently reminded the audience to always think of others.
As Good took her seat, the lights dimmed and smoke omitted from the entrance to welcome the 91 teams. Representing over 34 Nations — more than 1,200 Youth are set to compete in this year’s tournament.
Greeted by cheers and loud music, the Youth entered with signs representing their nations and team names. Many Youth danced, representing their respective clans.
The Tk’emlúps te Secwe̓pemc boys’ teams donned black and orange ribbon shirts, bringing enthusiastic cheers from the audience that shook the arena.
The games will take place at six different sites across “Nanaimo” this week, from March 20 to 24.
Canada’s First Nations Radio (CFNR) broadcaster Kiefer Collison said JANT has to be one of the largest Indigenous gatherings, not only in the country, but in the world.
All games are set to be livestreamed by CFNR, the official broadcaster for the JANT games.
“Basketball brings people to a lot of amazing places, and we’re just a couple of kids from the rez ourselves,” said Collison, who is from the Haida Nation.
“The feeling is electric. What an amazing thing for our people to have.”
Last year’s syilx hosts — also the defending champions — handed over the JANT basketball to Snuneymuxw athlete Jayden Thomas, who is playing for the U17 boys’ team, the Snuneymuxw Native Sons.
Wyse, who is the head coach for the U17 boys, welcomed the teams, their families and coaches to Snuneymuxw.
“The court has the power to bring us together from all walks of life. We are making history this year as we welcome 91 teams and 1200 young basketball players,” Wyse said.
“To the 2023 athletes, your training and personal will to compete is a tremendous accomplishment. You are carrying the teachings and hope of our Ancestors.”