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.

The following is the second in a series on my journey as a writer, from when I made the decision to go to college and became a reporter, and all the in-between, including becoming a community playwright and actor and, finally, writing my first novel.

It was a rare night of me staying home.

There was no party call, it was mid-week and pouring rain, so I was just puttering about and eventually found myself in the living room with my dad, watching Front Page Challenge, a current affairs show in which journalists/contestants had to guess the identity of the famous guest backstage.

My dad was in his armchair by the door and I was on the couch next to it, with an end table and lamp separating us. Half the time, I was staring out the big picture window that overlooked the front yard and the bottom of Fourth East, watching the rain. He and I didn’t have these moments much anymore. It was surprising when he went somewhere that wasn’t idle chatter.

“So, what are you going to do?”

The question came out of nowhere and my immediate thought was the present. “Just staying home,” I shrugged.

Easily annoyed, he shook his head. “No, I mean what are you going to do with your life?”

Taken completely off-guard, I hesitated. My life?

He continued. “You’re a writer, aren’t you?”

I hesitated again, then said, “Yeah.”

“Well, then when are you going to school? I thought you were going to be a reporter.”

There it was. Again. I was being told to shit or get off the pot.

I had to consider my answer carefully because this was meaningful, and the reasons were both inspiring and heartbreaking. Even though I wanted to ignore it, to push it down in my heart and mind, I knew that I was his last hope.

Now, when I say I was his shining light, it’s not because I bought into his thinking. I love my siblings and they each have their talents and do many things better than me. But my dad had seen something in me that he believed made me different, that meant my path would not be that of a lifetime fish plant worker. As wrong as it was for him to cast me as The One and, by comparison, the others as ordinary, it had sway.

I don’t know many people, especially in my cohort, that did not wish for a father’s approval. As big of a bastard as he was, as mean and violent and completely full of shit … he was the person whose approval meant the most to me, as much as I tried to convince myself that it didn’t.

When I represented my elementary school as a winner in a Remembrance Day poem contest, he was bursting with pride at the presentation, which was held at the Legion. We had a dinner and read our poems to the members and veterans. I remember that, as a I read my poem one of the members wept. It was one of the most powerful moments in my short life and made me think … maybe I do have something.

I knew that if I went to college, I would probably get funded by the band but it would be just the necessities. My dad was aware of this and so, that night in our living room, he sweetened the pot.

“I would support you, send you extra money, so you wouldn’t just be getting by,” he said, meeting my eyes with conviction.

I hadn’t said no to him a lot in the first place and, well, I was planning to go anyway, albeit with moderate enthusiasm, and no date set. The application to Mount Royal was sitting somewhere in my room, just waiting to be filled out and mailed off.

I smiled and nodded. “Yeah. Okay. I’ll send my application off this week.”

He smiled back, that lopsided grin he was famous for and that I can still see in so many photos, and turned his attention back to the TV. As we watched the show, I snuck occasional glances at him, trying to see through the rough surface. He was my dad but there was so much I didn’t know about him; his childhood, how he was raised. How could a man of such humour and joviality also be so cruel?

That chat would be the second-to-last meaningful conversation that I had with him. The coming winter would see him cause a tragedy that changed our family forever and made my going to college a certainty.

NEXT: It’s gone. It’s all gone.

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Before I continue with my “On the write road” series, I felt that I needed to speak to the announcement Thursday on the discovery of the remains of 215 children at the site of a former residential school site in Kamloops.

It is estimated that, of the 150,000 indigenous kids who were forced into these schools, some 4,100 never returned to their families and died in them. This, along with the “60’s scoop,” in which indigenous kids were removed from their parents by social services (government believed it was better to remove a child rather than provide a community and its parents with resources and support), created long term trauma that continues to run through the generations.

I know, I know: beating the “Indian out of the Indian” was the only way to assimilate us into the superior white society. And it’s, well, just what conquerors do. It’s standard practice for the “winners” (as if there was an actual declared war). Get over it.

Get over it. I’m not a social worker but I’m pretty sure that there is no worse response to victims of loss and trauma.

This horrible discovery opens old wounds for many people. It makes them look at scars and remember. It even makes some feel lucky, because they got out, they made it home. That is not what good fortune should look like.

I had gotten kind of numbed by all this stuff but Thursday’s announcement got to me. I felt an unease beyond the fact of those lives taken and I couldn’t put my finger on it. Then, yesterday, it struck me: many of those kids would have been my peers. They would have been about the same age as me.

We trick ourselves about age. I am 59 but I don’t feel it. I remember men in their late 50s when I was a kid and they seemed really old! That’s because, normally, our mind doesn’t pay as big a toll as our bodies. I still believe that I can stretch a double into a triple or make a fully extended catch in football. It feels that way – just like residential schools feel like ancient history.

But not much time has passed. I know many people who went to the schools. I also know some of the people who watched helplessly as their kids were taken. And those people are a largely overlooked group even though their trauma was considerable too. We rarely talk about that, the communities that became, largely, childless.

Imagine people coming into your community and forcibly taking away most of the children. The phrase about it taking a village to raise a child doesn’t apply to any community more than it does to Indigenous communities. Grandparents and, particularly, aunts and uncles, play a huge role in raising children. Many virtually adopt kids if their kids or nieces/nephews were too young or overwhelmed by the task.

So, for every kid removed from a community there was a large ripple effect, extending well beyond immediate family. Imagine the immensity of that void, when most of the kids just … go away. Whole communities were depressed. Is it any wonder how alcohol, drugs and violence took hold in most of them, especially in those that never got to see their kids again?

Simple chance of circumstances spared me, although I saw and felt the consequences of the schools, of the racism, from my friends and family who weren’t so lucky. The effects trickled down and still do. Anger and shame feel like a part of our DNA.

So, no, we will not get over it – not now or any time in the near future. Because the past is still very much in the rear-view mirror. And some things are closer than they appear.

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The following is the first in a series on my journey as a writer, from when I made the decision to go to college and became a reporter, and all the in-between, including becoming a community playwright and actor, going through a variety of jobs and, finally, writing my first novel.

This past Friday, I completed a task that I had set for myself upon writing my debut novel, ALL NATIVE, which was to gift a copy of the book to individuals who had played an important role in steering me onto the right path.

It was a beautiful sunny day as I drove to the home of retired teacher, Mike Crawford. He was the last person on my list. He lived on one of those streets in Rupert where you need to slow down and make evasive maneuvers, due to the many parts of it that were sunken in.

As I parked across from his house, he was mowing his lawn, perhaps following the chore-before-a-treat rule as I knew he had an afternoon of golf planned. As if on cue, he turned off his mower to take a break and seemed to be headed into the carport when I called out his name. He turned to me and smiled.

“Got my book?” he smiled as I approached. I held it up as I neared him and he added, “I hope you wrote something inside.”

Of course, I did write something. I thanked him for being one of the people who gave me a nudge or, in his case, a kick in the ass to get me doing something with my talent besides producing a smart-ass underground school newspaper (which was a lot of fun, though!)

It was 1981 and I had already flubbed my first attempt at graduating and was looking like I was going to sabotage myself again through gross truancy and unfinished assignments when I had a fateful run-in with Mike. I was making a rare appearance at school (and in the morning for once, to boot) when he happened to be walking by the front entrance. As soon as he saw me, he spun around and came right at me.

“You!” he snapped. “Let’s have a talk.” And, making it clear that I had no choice in the matter, he placed a hand on my shoulder and forcefully ushered me into his office (besides teaching Social Studies, he was also a guidance counselor), which was nearby.

He shut the door as I sat in the chair in front of his desk, having a good idea of where the chat was going to go. He plopped down in his chair, glared at me, and said, “what are you doing?!”

I hesitated then shrugged, “What do you mean?” – a question I didn’t ask because I wasn’t aware of my struggles in school but, instead, because he could have been referring to something else, any of a number of other stupid things I was involved in.

He sighed. “You’re not going to graduate, you know.”


The words hit me like a punch in the gut. I straightened up. I knew I was in jeopardy but I was unjustifiably confident that I was going to get it done. His statement made me nervous. “What do you mean?”

He shook his head, then explained, “You’re behind on your work. You’re never here. You’re failing,” he said and, upon seeing that he had gotten my attention, proceeded to explain to me exactly what I needed to do to turn it around. And, then, he took it a step further.

“And what about after school? What do you want to do?”

And there it was. The question we’re all asked at some point. When I was a kid, it was the classics, fireman or astronaut. In my early teens, I thought about being a lawyer, based on the courtroom dramas I had seen and my ability to nail people with zingers during informal debates. I had different thoughts now but I rarely mentioned them because the person I was at that time didn’t seem to have a realistic shot of doing anything ambitious. It was a dream, and not one for a teenage ne’er do well, alcoholic. But Mike had opened the door and I thought I should at least peek through it.

“I thought it might be good to be a reporter,” I said. Mike raised his eyebrows. Then, I added, “I’ve noticed that a lot of novelists used to be reporters.”

This was a first for me. I had said my dream out loud to someone else besides my buddies. I wanted to be a writer and, specifically, a novelist – but there is no such degree or diploma. There is a diploma for a reporter, though, and that would arm me with all of the skills and experience that a novelist should have, besides an imagination and a way with words.

Mike struck while the iron was hot.

“Okay,” he said, with an emphatic nod. “Well, how about I look into journalism schools out there and you come back tomorrow, see if we can find one for you?”

Huh? Uh …

I was taken aback by how quickly he was moving and was tempted to say “tomorrow’s not good for me” so I could think about it more and, of course, put if off. But I was also excited and, so, I told him I would come back the next day after school. He smiled, “okay, then,” and led me to the door.

I walked out of the school that day feeling different, like I might have a future, one that I dreamed of, after all. Of course, I was still an idiot, an alcoholic, and would make many wrong turns along the way, but I would become a reporter and I would write that book.

The road to my dreams, though, had many bumps and turns, and went to dark places. That, though, my friends, is what makes a good story!

NEXT: Nudged again, from an unlikely person, from out of nowhere

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All Native

The debut novel for Aboriginal author Rudy Kelly.



1640 - 7th Avenue East

Prince Rupert, BC



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