It was a wave of blue.
Dozens of players and supporters wore bright blue T-shirts marked “No LNG” to the opening of the All-Native Basketball Tournament in Prince Rupert on Sunday (Feb. 7).
Desi Collinson, point guard of the Skidegate Saints, said that after nearly pulling out of the tournament, his team decided a symbolic protest was the best way to counter its ongoing sponsorship by companies that aim to ship liquefied natural gas through Haida territorial waters.
Pacific Northwest LNG, BG Group, and Aurora LNG are all major sponsors of the All Native this year, and each proposes to build an LNG terminal near Prince Rupert.
“It’s a mega-project that they’re trying to plug into the coast here, and that’s going to affect Haida Gwaii,” said Collinson, who is concerned that the pipelines to an LNG terminal could leak or rupture, pumping loads of methane into the surrounding environment.
“Regardless of whether it’s going through Terrace or Kitimat or somewhere else, if it’s airborne, it’s going to affect us,” he said.
Heavy seas delayed the last ferry sailing from Haida Gwaii before the opening ceremonies, leaving many players from the five Haida teams unable to join in person.
But several other teams wore the T-shirts, including some from Port Simpson and Hesquiaht, as did many fans in the bleachers.
The protest also had support from Haida hereditary chiefs, who sent a letter requesting that the All-Native organizing committee find some alternative sponsors.
Hereditary chiefs from the Heiltsuk Nation in Bella Bella made a similar request.
Peter Haugen, board president of tournament committee, declined to speak any further about the issue last Friday afternoon.
Earlier Friday morning, Haugen told CBC radio that the All-Native tournament is not a political venue, and any LNG protests should stay off the court.
Haugen also noted that the tournament is held on Tsimshian territory, and Tsimshian chiefs have approved LNG projects.
The Saints are looking to win their fifth-straight seniors championship at All-Native, a tournament Collinson has played for well over a decade, winning several MVP awards along the way.
All-Native is not only the best basketball tournament, he said, but the best event of the year — one that brings together First Nations from Alaska to Vancouver.
But in the last few years, Collinson and other Saints players who oppose LNG have grown tired of seeing LNG company banners in the stadium, hearing LNG ads on CFNR radio, even LNG-branded noisemakers in the hands of Haida fans.
“They’re imposing themselves on your home, and not only that, they’re flashy about it,” he said.
Collinson said the team only changed its mind about boycotting this year because so many local fans and elders told them they should go because it’s their tournament.
Dave Wahl, the Saints’ long-time coach, agrees.
“The fans are important, the players are important, and to me they’re the true owners of this tournament,” said Wahl.
“So when they have something to say, they should not be ‘shushed.’”