650+ First Nations basketball players compete in Kelowna

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650+ First Nations basketball players compete in Kelowna

Hundreds of young First Nations athletes are in Kelowna this week to compete at the Junior All Native Basketball Tournament, a five-day event featuring more than 650 players on 61 teams from across B.C.

The annual event is being held in Kelowna for the first time ever after the Okanagan Nation and Syilx basketball program won the hosting bid.

Tournament director, Tara Montgomery, said it was important to organizers to suggest a new under-13 division when making their pitch.

"We have a ton of young little athletes within our own communities here," said Montgomery.

Developing athletes 'younger and younger'

"As part of the Syilx basketball program, we've really been working at developing athletes younger and younger."

"It allows those young people to develop within their community and work towards a goal to get here," she said.

With the addition of roughly 20 teams, Montgomery said this is now one of the largest youth basketball tournaments in the province. The competition is the junior equivalent of the long-running All-Native Basketball Tournament in Prince Rupert.

Beyond basketball, the tournament is an opportunity for First Nations communities to come together and celebrate culture.

"For kids to know their identity ... it's good to have pride in that," said Peter Waardenburg, a coach with the Syilx Basketball program. 

"We have First Nations people running the event, we have First Nations people who are fundraising and making it happen, so it's all First Nations people behind the scenes and in front," he said.

"It's just good energy. It's good for our communities, good for our nations and good for our kids to be a part of it."

Several Kelowna schools are hosting the games and the event is open to the public — a daily pass is $10 while elders and kids get in for free.

The tournament wraps up on Friday.  

  

With files from Alya Ramadan