Tears, frustration — and gratitude at the All Native Tournament

This is the third story in a three-part series about the All My Relations basketball team and their journey to the All Native Tournament in “Prince Rupert.” You can read the second story here.

Energy drinks, protein shakes, electrolytes and pre-workout powders circulated in the All My Relations (AMR) locker room Friday morning. Riding the high of their win on Thursday evening against Haisla Nation, AMR was up to play against the Laxgalts’ap Aces (Greenville).

Coach Paul briefed the team on Laxgalts’ap, saying they’re more efficient on the three-point line than other teams AMR has played. To win, this game would require all players to show up and play as a team while holding their own as individuals.

AMR was under pressure from Laxgalts’ap early on and struggled to hold that same momentum from the night before. With a minute left in the first quarter, the team was down 16-4, having difficulty getting shots up. In the second quarter, the crowd and the team on the bench were cheering “East Van” despite being down 43-20 at halftime.

Halftime was a chance for teams to hit the locker room and reset. Coach Adelia Paul entered the room after the players, telling them that as much as she could give them direction on the bench, it was up to them to do the work, and they needed to figure it out amongst themselves. Anyone who wasn’t a player left the room.

As the AMR team strategized — feeling their success in the tournament was on the line — Laxgalts’ap was on the court shooting free throws and passing the ball around in what almost looked like a celebratory warm-up.

The third quarter had been notoriously difficult for AMR throughout the tournament, and this game was no different. AMR was down 60-37 going into the final quarter.

In the fourth quarter, the team was unable to rewrite the story of this game so far. In an all too familiar scene, like losing Laura Lewis only two games earlier, AMR player Amber Wells went down holding her knee and stayed down for too long. The team was suddenly down two leaders on the court.

AMR ultimately fell short in a game that felt like one step forward and two steps back, losing 67- 47 to Laxgalts’ap. Even with the big victory the night before, the team felt tired. Through injury and heartbreak, their tournament was over.

Despite the loss, the team’s post-game conversation revolved around gratitude for one another and honesty surrounding the team’s shortcomings before discussing preparation, effort, and showing up well before the tournament. The air was thick with emotion as the team reflected on their high expectations.

The expectations went well beyond the court. Auntie Nicki — the manager of multiple girls’ teams in Vancouver, whose daughter plays on the U-17 team — joined the team for support partway through the tournament.

“I believe if this existed when I was young, my friends would still be here. It’s an honour to watch you battle so hard for East Van – for our sisters who don’t walk this Earth anymore. I carry those folks with me,” she told the team after their loss.

Tears, long pauses, and feelings of frustration over what could have been circled the room as each person spoke after the team’s final game. Laura Lewis, now on crutches and watching her team from the sidelines, remarked how beautiful it was to witness them play.

Camellia Brown says this is the first year that the team losing has brought her to tears. Brown is still actively learning about her culture and where she comes from. For her, AMR is a “family we choose to be a part of.”

Julissa Azak also says that playing with AMR is like playing with family.

“I’ve played with my home team, and they’re family too, but it’s different. As we got older and lived in different communities, we’ve grown apart,” says Azak, who was also moved to tears after the team’s final loss, saying she feels motivated for the team to come back stronger next year.

After the team’s loss, Joleen Mitton prompted the team to share their favourite AMR memories over dinner, sharing how when she thinks of the best times in her life, almost all of them are with the AMR team.

2025’s All Native Basketball Tournament will be experiencing some changes — the tournament will include a women’s master division and a return to qualifiers.

With AMR finishing fourth place, they’re allowed to bypass qualifiers. With players ranging from 20 to 40 years old on this year’s team, a women’s masters division enables the AMR team to enter two teams, bringing up the younger generation and moving up experienced players.

2025 All My Relations will also need to bring in a new coach, since Adelia Paul is returning to the court as a player, having already won the tournament five times, playing for both Haisla and All My Relations.

Later, Brenna Doolan from Nisga’a Nation took a moment to share some words with the team.

“My hope for AMR is we keep making it a safe space because basketball saves lives. You guys are going to do this now. You’re going to bring in young girls, mentor them, and bring in the next U-17 coming in. I hope you all take it seriously and nurture and love them because it’s beautiful. Continue to make it beautiful.”

Paige Taylor White, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, IndigiNews