Rudy Kelly                          Aboriginal writer         

About writing and stories of Aboriginal people on the North Coast of British Columbia

Welcome to Rudy Kelly, Aboriginal Writer, my home for my blog and my projects, including my first novel, ALL NATIVE. To start, I will present excerpts of my novel and write about the process of writing it and, of writing, in general. I'm quite opinionated, so, occasionally, there will be an opinion piece! I hope you enjoy it.

It was a cold, winter evening and my girlfriend and I stood in the side yard which had alternately served as a small football field, street hockey rink, and impromptu boxing ring for me, my brothers and friends. There were trees and bush on one end, which stopped at a small cliff overlooking the road. At the other end was a medium-sized shed, which I often lied on to stare up at the stars or just escape the madness within my home.

Large chunks of the house were gone but the shell was intact enough to keep it up. Most of the walls remained but some had holes in them, particularly where there were windows. It didn’t look like it was about to fall but it looked like it wanted to, the way you are when you’re exhausted and taking a break during a hike: you want to lie down but you know you may not want to continue if you do.

We walked over to the back of the house. My girlfriend wasn’t thrilled about this idea but went along anyway. Wooden stairs made their way up the side, with landings at the second floor and third floor back entrances. There were parts of it that were not completely covered in ice and that allowed us to make our way up them. Each step was carefully considered. I could see just well enough to avoid the rises of ice patches over the flatness of each step.

A handrailing also helped us stay on our feet. During my grad bender a few years before, I tore the whole railing off by attempting to ride the clothesline that ran from the top landing to the shed on the other side of the yard, forgetting that, the last time I did it, I was 10 years younger and 100 or so lbs. lighter.

The screen door at the top of the stairs was slightly ajar and it squeaked as I pulled it open. I stepped in and it was mostly dark but there were patches of light seeping from the rooms. We crept up the inside stairs and, when we got to the top, stared down the hallway at my room.

My door was open and it was, surprisingly, fairly lit. As I walked past the other two rooms, the one to my left immediately struck me, stopping me in my tracks. The floor was mostly gone. It had collapsed and looked like a giant had put his foot through it. It was the next oldest brother’s room, the party room. My oldest brother had the room first and he set a very high bar for rowdy drinking, drugging and debauchery, that my other brother was not able to match – although he tried. Goddamnit, we tried.

I stared at the main living room below on the second floor and felt sad, knowing we would never be there again, having dinner, watching tv, or enjoying those sweet hours on Christmas eve before the alcohol really kicked in, and the spell was broken and violence ushered in Christmas Day. Staring through that gaping hole was like looking at a life no longer, and I half expected it to magically close, like a film in reverse. I looked back at my girlfriend and gestured to move on.

Approaching my room, I immediately saw where the light was coming from. I knew it had been too much to be just the windows. The fire had blasted a huge hole through that wall and part of the roof facing the street, creating a view of the stars. It was beautiful. I wish I could have taken a picture.

There were two items that I wanted to find: my Houston Astros jersey and my box of poems. Incredibly, the Astros uniform was still intact, although reeking of smoke. I wasn’t even an Astros fan. I just liked the uniform, the bright colors and stripes, and was moved by the story of pitcher J.R. Richard, whose number 50 it bore and whose career ended when he had a stroke while warming up for a game.

My box of poems had not been as lucky as the Astros uniform. They had been burned, along with most of what remained of my closet. Some other writing was salvageable and I shoved those papers in my pockets. But the loss of the poems hit me hard. It was a medium that I would not indulge seriously in again.

We poked about through the rest of the wreckage, seeing if there was anything else that might be worth grabbing but what wasn’t burned was ruined by the smoke. I looked at my clothes, my little stereo, the table I had sat at many times and drank and rolled joints. It was weird to be in a scene of such destruction yet still want to lay down on the floor and sleep there, one last time. Then, with a deep sigh, I turned to my girlfriend and nodded: let’s go.

We made our way out of the house without incident, me carrying a few pieces of paper and the jersey. I briefly entertained looking in the basement floor, where all ten of us had lived before my dad purchased the house. That was where I hosted most of my teenage parties. Oh, the stories …

We left the yard and went to the apartment of a friend’s, who had taken us in after the fire. The rest of the family had scattered, with some, including my parents, staying at a relative’s home.

After we got to my friend’s place and had laid down on the floor to sleep, I rolled over, to face away from my girlfriend, because I knew I was going to cry. I tried to mute myself as best I could, so as not to disturb my friend and his wife. I didn’t do a good job. The tears streamed down my face and onto the floor, like pieces of my life leaving me, falling away, going into a pool of my past.

The future, meanwhile, was over 1,100 kilometres away, where the only familiar faces were my sister and her family. I was going to a city much different than Prince Rupert, one in which I would stick out because of how I looked and what I was.

All I could think was, what the fuck am I doing??


NEXT: Saddle up. We’re going to Cow town!


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Today is Canada Day.

Normally, I would be celebrating our nation’s birthday. But I can’t. Not now, anyway.

It’s not because I hate Canada. I don’t. There are so many things I love about this country.

Canada is beautiful.

We have stunning landscapes; the mountains, the lakes, the rivers, the oceans - the trees, so many trees, and the amazing wildlife. Deer cohabitate the city I call home, like pets – they even use the crosswalks! When visitors see the deer, or bald eagles, they get excited and exclaim, “Oh, my God, look, look!” and we just turn and go, “Oh. Yeah.”

I love hockey.

Even though I was too poor (according to my dad, at least) to be put in minor hockey, I played floor hockey and/or ball hockey since I was nine. I watch it often and am currently elated to see my Habs in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since they won it 28 years ago.

My partner is also a Habs fan because she is from Montreal – which I also love. It’s an incredible city! So Is Quebec City. Toronto. Halifax. Saskatoon. Ottawa. Calgary. Vancouver – Jasper, and all of the other amazing parks that I had the pleasure to see on the cross-country drive I took with my oldest son for his university Grad gift.

And there are so many wonderful people. Almost everyone we encountered on that road trip was so inviting and helpful – not unlike most Rupertites when we are approached by visitors off the cruise ships. Canada has a worldwide reputation of being nice.

Governments come and go but I support many of its programs, particularly those that are on the side of compassion and fairness (at least in intention. I know they don’t always turn out as promised). For the most part, Canada is a good world citizen and usually breaks up the Scandinavian monopoly on “best country to live in” annual lists.

But.

But.

With the recent discoveries of mass and unmarked graves at residential schools, it’s hard to celebrate the country they were built on. It is kind of like deciding to go ahead with a birthday party after a family member dies. That said, I do not begrudge anyone who chooses a quieter acknowledgement, sans fireworks and boisterous display, out of respect for those of us who are not in an exultant mood.

Remember that many of us are grieving. It is hard not to think about the children who were neglected and abused, who died far away from their families. We cannot help but wonder about the generations that were lost. For every child, there are untold numbers of grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, grandkids … children that will never be.

And the trickle-down effect is immeasurable, making us wonder how things might have been different. Many of those that came home were damaged and they, in turn, brought damage to their families. Violence and abuse and alcoholism were not a part of indigenous culture but, to many, it seems like it.

It’s a lot to carry and, with new graves being found and more to come, this anxiety, that seems to hang on me like a lead blanket, isn’t going away any time soon.

I know most of you are good people and that the many of you who are struggling with the decision to celebrate or not are non-indigenous, people who love the country but are horrified at this dark piece of the foundation it was built on.

Just know that fireworks and parades, cake and music, big demonstrations of affection are not necessary to show your love. Sometimes it is like supporting a troubled friend or family member, and you just have to listen to what is being said and just being there, is enough … for now, anyway.



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The fog of sleep was thick that morning when my nine-year-old niece’s voice cut through it. She was yelling as she came up the stairs to where my room, one of three on the top floor of our house, was at the end of the hallway.

At first, I was annoyed, being hungover and planning to sleep for a few more hours but, then, one word cut through the haze: FIRE. She was screaming it and saying that everyone had to get out. I sat up quickly, along with my girlfriend, eyes wide and suddenly feeling very sober and alert. The door was right next to the bed and I pulled it open and saw smoke. Holy shit. This is real, I thought, and we hustled to get dressed.

I can’t remember if our shoes were downstairs or in the room but we didn’t have any as we hurried through the hallway and down the stairs to the second floor as the smoke got thicker. We could hear others yelling. Besides my niece, my parents and five other siblings were in the house.

We ran down the second floor hallway, to the front door and down the front steps, gasping as the cold air shocked us. We got clear of the house and I stopped briefly, at the top of the small stairway that led to the street. I did a quick visual check to see if anyone was missing and then, once all were accounted for, I looked at the house to confirm what I already knew: it was gone. No chance that it would be saved.

I joined the others across the street, where we went to make room for the fire truck and firefighters. It wasn’t everyone. Some had stayed up on the walkway.

At one point, one of my brothers had to dash back in to get my mom, who he found sitting on the couch, disoriented, and muttering about forgetting something. It was as if she had decided to go down with the ship.

Once everyone was accounted for, we all huddled together and watched in shock as the place that we called home for 20 years burned and crackled in protest. It was like a living thing, that had held us in its arms for so long, given us comfort and joy but was also the setting for many horrors. All we could do was watch it die. I wanted to tell it I was sorry.

Due to the cold, it took awhile for the fire department to get the water going from the hydrant but there was little that could be done. We stood on the freezing ground in our socks for about 15 minutes before the family in the house next door kindly invited us in. We knew them well; two of the girls were good friends of mine and they made us hot chocolate and fed us. While we warmed up, I heard from my brothers that the fire had been caused by our dad.

It was a very cold day and our pipes were frozen. My dad and the oldest brother were trying to fix it. At some point, my brother was sent to the store for something and my dad was supposed to wait for his return, but he didn’t. He decided to start without him and took a blow-torch to the pipes on the ground floor. Well, our house was old and filled with cobwebs, and flames were shooting up through the house in no time.

A common theory among the siblings was that if my dad had just waited for my brother to return and they had taken whatever alternative action they had discussed, the house would have still been there, that my dad wouldn’t have used a blow torch near the downstairs ceiling. I’m not sure it would have mattered.

My dad was not the kind of man who took blame easily. He saw faults in others far easier than he did in himself. And so, he took a defensive stance, even suggesting that my brother had taken too long, although his tone was half-hearted. Some of my siblings cast my dad as an old fool and they held a grudge for many years. I saw no point in that as I was certain that no one felt worse about it than him.

I don’t believe in signs, messages of fate, but I felt that this one was hitting me over the head. Yes, I was planning to go to school but it still wasn’t one-hundred-percent firm due to the good money I was making at the fish plant. I knew that most reporters were making considerably less and was considering putting school off for a year or two, which could have easily become three or four or …

No. I was heartbroken and I needed to get away. It wasn’t just the house going; it was the negativity and anger that followed, coursed through the family for years, and that could have pulled me down. I was going and I called my sister in Calgary, who said she could put me up until I found a place of my own.

Before I went, though, I would enter my house, my room, one last time. It was alcohol-infused idiocy and one of numerous such moments that I was lucky to survive.

A few days after the fire, I went back to the property to look at the skeleton of 124 – 4th Avenue East. It was gutted but remained standing. With the temperature still below zero, ice created by the fire hoses covered much of the building, making it look like a giant, melted doll house. To go inside it, let alone up three stories to my room, would be very dangerous.

But I had to go in. One last time.

Next on THE WRITE ROAD: Farewell to my home and onto Cowtown.




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All Native

The debut novel for Aboriginal author Rudy Kelly.

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1640 - 7th Avenue East

Prince Rupert, BC

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250-600-6505

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