The All Native Basketball Tournament in Prince Rupert is an annual event that many look forward to all year, but for Vince Edenshaw and Greg Frisby, the two Hydaburg players didn’t get to see it through — they were detained by the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA).
“They crossed our territorial waters, which happen of course to have a border between it, the Dixon Entrance, a narrow body of water separating Haida Gwaii from southeast Alaska,” said their lawyer, Terri-Lynn Williams-Davidson.
After travelling from Hydaburg, Alaska, to Haida Gwaii and then taking the ferry to Prince Rupert for the competition, the two Haida men were detained on Friday, Feb. 16, for failing to check in with a border agent before entering Canada.
Instead of playing in the All Native finals, Edenshaw and Frisby were in jail in Terrace, waiting for their hearing and facing a different type of court.
Williams-Davidson said her clients had taken the route to Haida Gwaii for several reasons.
“One of them being the ferry system is not working right now between Alaska and Prince Rupert. It was shut down on short notice and it’s out for months. So the other alternative is a plane, and it’s an expensive flight to come down, so they chose to go this way. It’s the way that our people have gone before in the past,” Williams-Davidson said, adding that Edenshaw’s and Frisby’s ancestors would have often travelled freely over those waters, which are still a part of Haida territory.
After a weekend in custody in Terrace, Edenshaw and Frisby were released on Monday, Feb. 19.
Although Williams-Davidson doesn’t normally practice immigration law, the general counsel for the Haida Nation took on Edenshaw and Frisby’s case.
“Because these men were on their own in jail, I volunteered to help get them out,” she said. “We didn’t turn it into this big Aboriginal rights hearing, instead we agreed to the exclusion order because the primary objective was to get them out of jail and get them back home.”
In accordance with the exclusion order, the two men will not be allowed to enter Canada again for a year. When they cross the border again, Williams-Davidson will continue to represent them.
“I’m looking forward to next year and the tournament again,” she said. “You know, basketball is an important thing for small northern communities… It’s the same in Hydaburg, Alaska. It’s a very small community, like the communities in Haida Gwaii.
“Basketball is a great opportunity for teaching younger people some of the teachings that we would have gotten a long time ago in ceremonies. It’s an opportunity for kids to advance themselves. One of them, Vinny, volunteers to teach the high school basketball team. He’s a coach for them. Basketball is important, so they’ll continue to play basketball and continue to provide a role model to children who want to advance in basketball. I want to make sure they can continue to do that.”
As for the Haida Warriors seniors, the Hydaburg team, they lost in the All Native finals and without their key players, were unable to defeat Kitkatla in the close match.
“Every time I called in to them, they wanted to know what was up with their team,” Williams-Davidson said, adding that it was hard on Edenshaw and Frisby to miss the game.
Being able to travel freely in Haida territory — national border or not — continues to be an issue for the Haida Nation, but it was not a battle fought over the basketball court.
“We did have it noted on the record that these two men are Haida citizens and according to our laws, they should be free to pass in our territory. We wanted it noted on the record, but it wasn’t the issue in the hearing,” Williams-Davidson said.
“That is still an issue that is important to the citizens of the Haida Nation. It may be a subject of broader litigation, perhaps the Aboriginal title litigation we’re currently engaged in… It’s still an issue that will need to be addressed.”