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.

My first year of college went well. The fish out of water fit into the Journalism program just fine despite not being as well equipped as many of the others. It was great to be immediately thrust into reporting by having to contribute to the weekly college paper, The Journal 3009 (named after the room our main classes were held).

My stories were well-received as, besides a strong vocabulary and writing skills, I already had a good idea of what made a good news story – things like attribution, multiple sources, and short, snappy lead paragraphs (the” lede”) just made sense even before I was told. The reporting end of things was not going to be a problem. Editing and layout, on the other hand …

Editing and Layout class was where the herd would be thinned. “Wait. Math? We’re going to do math?! I thought journalism was about writing!” was the common refrain. It didn’t help that the instructor was a hard ass, the bad cop to the likeable reporting instructor.

Oh, there was so much more to journalism than writing, it turned out. Editing and Layout was a headache, involving making stories and photos fit on a page in a way that was both attractive and readable. It was kind of like Tetris and involved word counts and column inches and reducing or enlarging photos, and dog ears, cutlines – and don’t forget the ¼ page ad!

Photography was also challenging, what with the F-stop and aperture settings but I have a good eye for framing and managed to consistently take good shots, even with the dinky point-and-shoot camera my brother had given me as a Grad gift. We lost about a quarter of the students in that first term, the just-wanted-to-be-writers, which was sad as I had befriended a few of them.

After that first year, I pondered going back home to work in the cannery for the summer but an opportunity came up at a southern Alberta indigenous weekly called Kainai News and I jumped at it. The office was located was in a tall building not far from downtown and it had just two other employees. Rudy Mann was the head reporter and the ads/sales guy was Scotty Many Guns. The editor was Mary Weasel Fat (gotta love those local indigenous names!), who put together the paper at head office on the Blood reserve, about two hours south of Calgary.

Scotty Many Guns is one of the most amazing people I’ve met because of his ability to thrive in two worlds, the white and the indigenous. He was a very good ads salesman; a sharp dresser and seemed to always be able to talk customers into buying just a little more than they originally asked for. On some weekends, though, he discarded the suit and tie in favor of Indigenous attire. He was a fancy dancer.

A fancy dancer wears face paint, colorful regalia, including feather bustles and beaded bodices, knee high moccasins and the good ones compete at large, annual Powwows. Scotty was one of the best in the province and often returned to the office on Monday with a victorious smile.

Rudy Mann was a slick-talking editor who seemed to have been around the block a few times, although he appeared to ju be in his late 30s. He was as dark-skinned as me, wore gold-rimmed glasses, had a receding hairline, smoked non-stop, and seemed to always be grinning as he spoke. When he informed me that I had the job, he smiled and said the first lesson is “You’re going to have to forget a lot of what they’re teaching you in journalism class.”

I was stunned by that statement and, seeing it in my face, he chuckled, “Oh, don’t worry. We don’t lie. We just tell the story from our side mostly.” I nodded, although I wasn’t sure what he meant.

It turned out that Rudy Mann was really Rudy Hageneder, an Austrian who didn’t go out of his way to tell people he wasn’t Indigenous. He was a fun guy and a great mentor who taught me a lot about the reality of reporting, especially agenda writing, which Kainai News definitely was.

Agenda writing is just as it sounds: it is journalism that has taken a position and, while not always peddling in blatant falsehoods, will mostly tell one side of a story and give, at best, lip service to the other side. The most prominent example today is Sun media and, in my neck of the woods, Black Press, which lean largely to the right in the political spectrum.

I was instructed to call the other side, usually government, for comment but not be dogged about it. Let the phone ring three times, shrug, and say you tried. So, our hard news (timely, usually political and having a significant impact) was told almost exclusively from the Indigenous perspective, while the government/business side was copied or paraphrased from their press release.

When I told the journalism head, MacDonald, about Kainai’s practices, he nodded and smirked, and said such reporting was becoming more prevalent in the industry but he was hopeful that objective journalism would always be the rule rather than the exception. I wish I could get his feelings about that now.

And so, I sucked it up and became an agenda writer – and it wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be. After all, back then the government side, the white perspective, was given far more air time and newspaper space, especially in ultra-Conservative Alberta. Maybe it wasn’t a bad thing to have outlets that told our side of the story, even though the readership was mostly our own, the converted. And, hey, sometimes, you got a chance to piss off some powerful people, like then-Premier Don Getty!

I wrote a story on the Meech Lake Accord talks, which took place in the summer of 1987, and Don Getty’s comments about rejecting the Accord if native rights were to be entrenched in it (which were confirmed in other mainstream publications). The spin I put on it was in line with comments from several Alberta indigenous leaders that I interviewed. Then, a couple of weeks after the story was published, a letter arrived from the Premier’s office, from Getty himself and addressed to me, in which he takes issue with the story and accuses me of “indulging in mischief.”

I was intimidated by the letter. Becoming the target of the Premier of the province didn’t strike me as a good thing. But, then, Rudy Mann said “An angry letter from the Premier, to a student reporter! We’ve got to celebrate this, Mr. Mischief Maker!” and he put on his jacket and led the way to the nearest bar.

From that day on, Mischief Maker was my nickname in the office. As it turns out, Mr. Getty may have been onto something, as there were a few times during my tenure with the Prince Rupert Daily News when the tag fit.

NEXT: Stumbling towards ecstasy



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“I want to write novels.”

Ron MacDonald’s surprise at my answer showed only slightly; a smirk tugged at the corner of his mouth.

There was no assessment exam for the Mount Royal College journalism diploma program. Instead, writing samples were submitted along with a copy of your dogwood and a letter explaining your interest. There was also an in-person interview with the head of the department, Ron MacDonald.

MacDonald had asked me why I wanted to be a journalist. I’m not sure why I chose to be honest rather than wax on about the nobility of the profession; the search for truth, holding people in power accountable, keeping the little guy informed, etc. Maybe it was the immediate good vibe I got from him and a certainty I got, that any bullshit would just insult him.

Asked to elaborate, I explained to him that I had noticed that there were many famous novelists whom had been journalists and that it made perfect sense to me, seeing as how journalism taught one how to gather information, how to interview people, how to observe so that your stories would paint a full picture of events and people. MacDonald smiled as I spoke and I sensed there was a novel behind those eyes as well. He was everything a college prof and department head should be: intelligent, caring, honest and so fair that I didn’t want to disappoint him, to abuse his trust.

The coolest thing MacDonald did was NOT tell me that I was (potentially, then) going to be the first Indigenous graduate of the Mount Royal journalism program. Knowing that might have made me feel like a golden goose and take it for granted that they wanted me to do it for that purpose alone, and I would have walked even more of a tightrope than I already did. Instead, he waited until I was done and on my way to my first full-time gig. They were pretty much his last words to me, besides “good luck.”

Before starting the program, I took a few courses at the college, mostly to acquire the typing skills that I would need for the program. My dad had purchased a small, bright red typewriter for me that, while adorable and becoming obsolete, got plenty of use. I would not join the home computer club until the early 90s.

At first, my girlfriend and I stayed with my older sister and her family, who had been living in Calgary for several years. Eventually, we would move into our own apartment just down the street. We were in the Westbrook area of Southwest Calgary and the college was about 10 minutes away by bus.

The college was big, with over 3,000 students and it would get bigger due to the upcoming Winter Olympic Games, which required accommodations and food services, some of which were provided by or built near Mount Royal. My favorite addition was the new Student Centre, which had a sports bar and a hall for small concerts and parties – I saw a young man named Jeff Healey perform there, opening for the Ozark Mountain Daredevils!

The core courses in the program were Reporting, Editing, Media Law, and Photography. Print journalism students often shared classes with students in electronic media and public relations (where all good journalists now go to die, albeit in a nicer apartment and car).

The electives I took were Literature, Psychology, and Sociology, all of which I thoroughly enjoyed. In what was perhaps my all-time high as a student, I got a 100 per cent mark on an essay in the Literature course. The instructor kept me anonymous as she took up a whole class dissecting my essay, using it as an example to the class on how an essay should be written. It reminded me of Grade Eight, when my high marks surprised the Brainiacs from the other elementary schools but, this time, the reveal was made only after class and to a few students whom I had befriended.

True to form, I came out of the gate strong, making the Dean’s list in my first semester. My GPA fell just short of a repeat the following semester and, as I became more comfortable and made friends (in and out of school), the decline would continue into academic mediocrity in a second year that saw me, as I did in graduating high school, narrowly get through.

But get through the program I did and, along the way, met some wonderful people and had some unforgettable experiences that included working at an Aboriginal newspaper, pissing off the Premier of Alberta, experiencing the Winter Olympics and Calgary Stampede as a reporter and fan, flying in a drunk squadron, and escaping a beat down in a house full of white guys. Oh, Calgary.


NEXT: The Calgary saga continues with my foray into "Indian Journalism"


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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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All Native

The debut novel for Aboriginal author Rudy Kelly.

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Contact

1640 - 7th Avenue East

Prince Rupert, BC

V8J2K3

250-600-6505

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