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.

Well, it’s New Year’s Day. We did it!

Normally, around this time, many of us would be recovering from a big party at one of the halls or bars, or a gathering of family and friends. But 2020 was anything but a normal year.

My routine wasn’t changed much yesterday as my hard party days are behind me and New Year’s (and most holidays, really) has little significance to me. I only have a few good memories of the big New Year’s parties. The fashion show put on by the women was always impressive and, sometimes, there was a fight or two to liven things up but I really can’t think of one bash that stands out. The house parties were more fun for me because they involved mostly close friends and acquaintances.

For a lot of people, New Year’s is more meaningful if they’ve had a bad one. So, they say good riddance to 2020 and hope that 2021 is better. Like resolutions, to lose weight or learn something new, it doesn’t make much sense. The present is always more important, the best time to change, and flipping a calendar page over makes no difference.

That’s right: the virus that dominated 2020 still has another wave or two so, no matter how many glasses you lifted to 2021, you’re still going to have to wear a mask, keep your distance, work in your underwear, and find more ways to keep the kids amused. Even with the vaccine and the coming of that day when masks and social distancing aren’t mandated, world health experts are saying there could be other viruses around the corner.

Oh, we can drag our lips about it and mope (and, believe me, I have), or we can, well, carry on and make the most of it. There is a line in a book I am currently reading, that struck me as particularly relevant to our time: No matter what occurred in the world, no matter how near danger might be, life went on, and what could one do but live it? And that line was from a Jew as he watched Nazis march into Austria.

There’s no use playing the victim, as if cruel fate or God is messing with us. Life is often a shit show, a constant struggle and that, oddly, is what keeps the world turning. Stress is what makes us move, makes us get out of bed in the morning. I didn’t write my novel until I pretty much had to, until I agreed to deadlines. I’ve also learned to bake. And I’m taking another run at learning to play piano because, well, why not? In the past year, I was scared and I was challenged. And that, more often than not, is how we learn and feel alive – whether it’s 2020 or not.

I don’t mean to downplay the massive human tragedy that COVID-19 is. Too many people lost loved ones, some who had to die alone, and that is devastating. The majority of us, though, faced more inconvenience than heartbreak.

I have been fortunate in 2020. I got a new job where I help Indigenous people involved in the courts and corrections system improve their lives; every win, big and small, is very satisfying. My novel is doing quite well, despite my not being able to get out and promote it. And I got a short story in the new anthology, Influenced: stories from the lockdown.

COVID-19 has shone a brighter light on our huge societal problems, such as opioid addiction, racism in our institutions, the continued gross disparities in wealth, and global warming. All of these issues affect the poor and minorities much greater. I’m particularly hopeful on climate action. Climate change didn’t create COVID-19 but most scientists agree that it increased the likelihood of it and future ones happening. By not doing enough about climate change, we are essentially pulling up a chair for a pandemic and saying “your table, sir.”

Maybe we should look at 2020 as the Year of Awakening. We’ve been complacent. We let shit go on for too long. Lights have been shone into corners of darkness, where police target people of color and addicts are left alone in their apartments to die. Yet, we’ve also seen the heroism of medical workers, front line staff, and countless acts of kindness.

2020 gave us a common enemy. It would be easy to say it was COVID-19 because it’s faceless and there was seemingly nothing we could do to prevent it. But we know that it is we who are own worst enemy and taking responsibility, once and for all, will be how we build a better, safer world – in 2021 or any year.



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Who do you believe?

I got a message from an old friend a couple of days ago, asking me, as a former reporter, that question. What were the most reliable sources of news? He didn’t have to tell me why he was asking – I knew, and it made me sad.

I remember a time when most media were trusted.

On TV, it was the big three American stations, ABC, CBS and NBC, while in Canada, it was CBC nationally and BCTV provincially. I was pretty young when cable came along, pulling open the curtain to a big, new, bright world dominated by the U.S.

In print, the Globe and Mail was (and continues to be, I believe) the gold standard and the Canadian Press fed most papers, including the Prince Rupert Daily News, where I worked. It was always exciting to get one of my stories picked up on the CP wire.

I didn’t experience being a writer for a paper with an agenda for too long, as the clear shift to a right-wing bias at the Daily didn’t happen until my latter years in the mid-late 90s. I recall being asked to write an editorial condemning local fisherman for blockading the Alaska ferry and I refused, even under threat of firing. That didn’t mean I agreed with the fishermen’s actions but, after their concerns had been ignored by Ottawa for so long, I wasn’t going to condemn them either.

Today, well, the number of media outlets with agendas far outnumber those without. There are too many, particularly online, to name but they are very easy to spot: they have provocative names, like Rebel Media and The Drudge Report. These extreme sites are the new porn.

In Canada, the right wing owns most of the big media, including the Sun chain, The National Post and, in my neck of the woods, Black Press. Post Media, which has 140 outlets in print and online, is almost entirely American owned. So maybe we shouldn’t be too hard on the CBC for leaning left, although theirs is also a self-preservation battle as Conservatives have long wanted the CBC (at the least, TV) taken off of the public teat. The aforementioned Globe and Mail also leans Liberal.

These are incredibly polarizing times, in no small part due to the rise of Trumpism and the term “fake news,” which refers to any news that is critical of or contradicts him or his government. It has certainly made elections in the U.S. more colorful. News outlets choose sides, which makes the viewing livelier but too outrageous for my liking. It’s hard to take the pundits seriously. Certainly, Canada has its share of agenda news agencies but, as in most things we share with the U.S., we will always be America-lite – which is a good thing.

All of that said, while most media may follow political lines editorially, most report with reasonable fairness. And it is that message I gave to my friend.

Avoid the extreme outlets, that are hard right or left. Those are for people with blinders, whom desperately want their prejudices confirmed. It’s lazy and self-indulgent. We all need to challenge our beliefs. There are few, if any, absolute truths in human systems.

Focus on news stories or features more than editorials. There’s a reason that the big TV outlets and major newspapers, the “mainstream” media, are more read. They want more people to follow them, to subscribe to them, and for that to happen, they need to be believed by more people. Do they still editorialize? Yes. But, while CNN may often editorialize against Trump, their news product still cites sources from both sides.

Even Fox News, which is the most unabashedly biased of the networks, leaves most of the truth-bending to its talking heads and some of them, to their credit, have challenged Trump narratives lately to the point that he is condemning them now and pushing alternative outlets.

It’s the same in Canada. The CBC may lean left and The National Post may lean right but the stories are still written by real, working journalists that still value the craft’s core principles of balance (portraying both sides) and attribution (having people with close knowledge or authority speak to it).

My personal preference is actual, hard-copy reputable newspapers with an online presence, which is most of them. A subscription is pretty cheap – certainly cheaper than picking up a physical copy, which is impossible where I live anyway. I subscribe to the Washington Post for U.S. and world news, and the Globe and Mail for Canadian content. Of course, you can find good sources on the free MSN online, but check the sources as they are hugely varied. Names like Canadian Press, Associated Press, and Reuters are highly trustworthy.

Bottom line: don’t waste your time on the blatantly biased. Read a lot - so few of us do it enough anymore. Liberals are not communists. Conservatives are not Nazis. The truth is out there. If you believe you are a fair and kind person, care enough to find it.

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It’s raining in Rupert.

I know, not exactly a news flash but it may help answer the question of “to trick or treat or not to trick or treat” for some people. “Sorry, kiddo, the weather's too bad,” will get some parents out of it.

We have determined that we would still do it – keeping in line with Dr. Henry’s advice, of course, which was that we can do it with proper precautions. Still, we will miss some of the pageantry that went along with it.

There will be no Halloween Fest, the huge gathering at the community centre, of course. And no fireworks – unless you count the jerks who do them year-round at all hours of the night. There will be no parties, which means my older sister will not vie for the best costume in the contests at the bars, as she usually does with great enthusiasm.

Halloween was a big thing for me for many years. I was quite good at making costumes. Part of this was out of necessity as I cornered myself into doing a costume every week for a time as the movie reviewer for The Daily News.

My column (which actually won a provincial award) was called VideoView, and it featured a mugshot of me done up as a character in one of the movies I reviewed. I was Batman, Chaplin, James Bond, Scrooge, and Whoopi Goldberg in Sister Act! When I left the paper, the staff gave me a large framed collection of all of the faces; one of the best, most thoughtful presents ever.

Of course, I also dressed up for parties. One Halloween, at the bowling alley, I was Robocop, and me and the Hulk (Lyle McNish) tossed Super Dave Osborne (Barry Eso) down the lanes, helmet first. We didn’t get a strike and, um, Super Dave’s belt bucket may have put a bit of a scratch on the lane. Sorry, Joey!

Even with my enthusiasm diminished lately, I still find a way to get up for it due to having a little boy and a partner who absolutely loves Halloween and dressing up. She comes up with the most creative costumes! One year, we went as the unlikely pair of Barack Obama and Sarah Palin.

This year, my eight-year-old, Conall, went as the Black Panther, paying tribute to the late Chadwick Bosman. On Friday, his class did a walk-by parade at the senior citizens’ complex. I’m glad that it wasn’t cancelled and heard that it was very much appreciated by the residents.

Life goes on or, as Jeff Goldblum said in Jurassic Park, it “finds a way.”

If anything, that may be our greatest strength: our stubbornness. Can’t shake hands? Okay, we’ll tap elbows. Can’t meet in person? We’ll Zoom (sorry, Skype). My kid is in swim club and gymnastics. Minor basketball is happening. I’ve gone to two movies recently.

Oh, sure we’re going to have some “new normals” after this is all over but we’re used to that too; just like we started wearing seatbelts, washing our vegetables and sneezing into our sleeves. And, well, since it’s Halloween, you were going to wear a mask anyway, and maybe some gloves. Should also check the candy. It’s not really that much different.

Speaking of masks, one thing I really miss is live theatre; watching it and being in it. In bringing it back, we’re going to have to be creative – which is fine since that’s what theatre folks are. It is going to be challenging and we’re going to have to think outside the box but, hey, ever seen a Cirque de Soleil show?? We’ll figure it out.

Happy Halloween, everyone.

And, remember, it’s okay to be scared but, eventually, the lights will come on again. And the curtain will rise, and good people will take their bows and point to the unsung heroes, and there will be applause and smiles.

Life really is a stage, so play your part as best as you can and trust those around you.

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All Native

The debut novel for Aboriginal author Rudy Kelly.

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