They came from Tonga, from Hawai’i, from Aoteraoa/New Zealand, and from the Skeena River valley.
From around the world, young basketball players landed in Skidegate last week for the first-ever Pacific Unity U22 Summer Series — a four-day tournament and cultural sharing co-hosted by the Skidegate Saints and Skidegate Band Council.
Speaking to a packed house at the George Brown Rec Centre, where the Haida Nation won first-place copper medals after besting a tough Māori team 83-63 in the Saturday night final, organizer Gaagwiis, Jason Alsop thanked the visiting teams for accepting their invitations to Haida Gwaii.
“We’re truly, truly grateful to everyone for having that faith in us,” he said.
For the last two years, the Skidegate Saints held the World Indigenous Basketball Challenge in Vancouver — tournaments that brought Indigenous senior men’s teams from as far as Africa, Central and South America, and the South Pacific. Another WIBC will be hosted by the Māori in New Zealand next spring.
This summer’s Pacific Unity tournament gave players 16 to 22 years old a similar chance to make international connections.
“To be able to pass that on to the young men here, who played with such pride, really makes us feel like everything we’ve been doing is right,” Alsop said.
Players stayed with families in Skidegate, had meals together and took in some Haida Gwaii sights and swims between games.
Raymond Cameron, a coach with the Māori, said although they didn’t get the final win they wanted, the team was treated by the people of Haida Gwaii like champions from day one.
“Before we came here, we saw our mirror image in the people of Haida Gwaii,” Cameron said.
“I would like to thank, on behalf of our team, the Raven families and Eagle families.”
Tyrel Harris, a fleet-footed Gitxsan player who faced a combined Tonga/Hawai’i team for third place, said the level of basketball in the tournament was well beyond what he’s seen at All-Native and smaller mainland tournaments.
“Definitely,” said his teammate Brendan Eshorn, upbeat despite icing his hamstring after a close 72-65 win by Tonga/Hawai’i.
“I’d almost say half of these players could be at a college level, eventually, or already are.”
Eshorn said he had visited Haida Gwaii before and knew several Skidegate players, but getting to chat with Māori players and coaches was awesome.
“It’s been great — there’s always a great atmosphere around here,” he said.
“It really does feel like Pacific unity.”
Photos by Andrew Hudson/Haida Gwaii Observer