All Native Basketball: Women on the Court

At this year’s All Native Basketball Tournament in Prince Rupert, 16 women’s teams hit the court, marking almost three decades of women’s basketball in the event.

Judy Carlick-Pearson was there from the beginning. The 42-year-old mom has played in all tournaments except one
since a women’s league began in 1993.

Basketball runs through her family. “All my older cousins, male and female, played. My grandfather was a very short man and a good basketball player. And our community Metlakatla was always big in basketball.”

Her older sister Roberta Edzerza pioneered the way for women to play in BC’s largest Indigenous sports event. “Growing up we used to play against men, it wasn’t a big deal for us,” Carlick-Pearson says. “One year, my sister announced, ‘I’m playing in the tournament this year.’ We said, you kinda can’t, it’s a men’s tournament. Roberta said there were no rules to prevent women from playing and got herself on a local men’s team.”

The next year, the first women’s teams were invited to the All Native Tournament. At 15, Carlick-Pearson played for Kaien Island, beating Edzerza’s older team to win the first women’s competition. ‘I remember only the last ten minutes of the entire tournament. It was a huge debut, so much pressure. We ended up beating my sister’s team by 2 points in the final second.”

The inclusion of women in sports is about equal opportunity, fairness and equality, says Carlick-Pearson. For First Nations women, she stresses, it’s a very empowering situation in which women get to represent their families, teams and villages.

“There’s a lot of pride that’s instilled in this tournament. People are playing their hearts out for their villages. We’re
superheroes to our own kids.” ANBT President Peter Haugan was her high school coach and on the committee when a women’s division was first proposed. “It wasn’t a hard decision for me,” Haugan says. “I knew they would entertain and play hard. We added the women and it was a big success.”

When not on the court, Carlick-Pearson is the project manager of the Coastal First Nations’ Great Bear Rainforest Essential Oils. She also recently opened West Coast Best Coast Designs in Prince Rupert and is creating designs for six ANBT team uniforms. “We’re actively involved in basketball, hockey and baseball as a family so we’re trying to provide people with clothing they might need locally. Our logo is a whale tail – the majority of Tsimshian people are killer whales and being on the water is significant to us.”

Carlick-Pearson and her sister have been role models to inspire many women to play the game. In 2009, she was the
first woman inducted into the All Native Tournament’s Hall of Fame. Edzerza followed in 2015. While still competing in 2020, she says the average woman player’s age is about 35, so “my generation is getting ready to hand the torch off.”

“There are tons of young women’s teams and really amazing talent coming up. It’s crazy to see how far we’ve come since 1993,” she says. “Teams are playing harder, training harder, and taking it more seriously.”

Carlick-Pearson, who coached for six years, says if players want to beat the top dog, they have to work hard. Asked who to watch for in 2020, she points to teams from the Okanagan, Haisla, Kitkatla and, of course, her team Rain from Prince Rupert. “But you can never underestimate any team in the All Native tournament,” she cautions. “We’ve been beaten by some teams you’d never think were contenders.”