Going from ‘Not Welcome’ to ‘You’re Invited’

Sisters Roberta Edzerza, left, and Judy Carlick-Pearson, right

Some people don’t know how to take “no” for an answer. Roberta Edzerza is one of them. Thankfully. As a member of the Metlakatla Trojans men’s team, Edzerza was the only female player competing in the 1992 All Native Basketball Tournament (ANBT). This because there was no women’s division. Yet.

Thirty-three years of tournament play excluding female teams from competing ended the next year. “I was on the floor representing,” Edzerza said. “I knew this was going to make some changes.”

What changed? Roberta Edzerza helped shift the perception toward female players, according to ANBT Chair Peter Haugan, who said, “The [Tournament] committee could see that the ladies could play the game.” Twenty-seven years after Edzerza’s historic debut, 14 women’s teams are competing at the 60th Annual Prince Rupert ANBT, which is an important cultural event for regional indigenous peoples and attracts thousands of spectators from across the province.

The first year women competed, Edzerza’s Vancouver team lost in the 1993 finals to her younger sister’s team from Kaien Island. “My sister was actually more excited for [our] win than we were.” said Judy Carlick-Pearson, the inaugural women’s tournament MVP. Carlick-Pearson has been named finals MVP five times.

Edzerza’s inspirational lineage extends to today’s youngest ANBT women players. Adelia Paul became a two-time ANBT champion playing with the Haisla Sr. Ladies team out of Kitamaat Village, and she remembers watching the tournament as a child and wanting to play basketball at that level when she grew up. “I just remember being one of the kids on the sidelines just idolizing some of the players,” said Paul.

Paul has become the role model to today’s girls the same way as Edzerza’s generation was to hers. Today she coaches a U-17 team and at basketball camps. “There’s actually girls on my team that I’m playing against in this tournament,” she said. “It’s pretty cool to see that.”

More than two decades after breaking the gender barrier, Edzerza and her sister Judy Carlick-Pearson are members of the Prince Rubber Rain. Carlick-Pearson is grateful for her sister’s not taking “no” for an answer by competing on a men’s squad to prove ladies have game no different from the boys, and for proving that there was no good reason not to expand ANBT to invite women’s teams too. “It had a big impact on my life when Roberta actually initiated that women should play,” Carlick-Pearson said. “She was the first person to actually make that happen for all of us.”

As Prince Rubber Rain’s starring forward, Edzerza’s dedication and professionalism sets a fine example for her younger teammates to emulate. “It used to be about myself years ago, but now I’m playing for other young girls,” said Edzerza.