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.

In a normal year, today would be one of the most exciting days of the year in British Columbia – in Prince Rupert, in particular. Well over 1,000 people, from near and far, would be at the Civic Centre to watch the championship games at the annual All Native Basketball Tournament. There would be Ladies and Masters finals in the afternoon, and Intermediates and Seniors finals in the evening.

It was evident months ago that the All Native would be another event casualty of COVID-19, but the committee held off until just recently to officially announce its cancellation. It is the first time it will not take place since its inaugural year of 1960.

In a normal year, the past week would have seen several thousands of fans passing through the doors to watch games morning to night in the main gym, and in the arena on the portable basketball court. They would have also packed into the auditorium, where vendors sold food, First Nations art and jewelry, and ran draws every day (and, normally, where I purchased my Valentine’s gift!). It is a great meeting place where you could renew old acquaintances and make new ones.

Last year, I was posted at one of the tables, selling my novel, All Native. We had a good spot, right by the entrance. Initially, there was some confusion, with some thinking it was a history of the event or featured profiles of former players. Several people asked whether a relative of theirs, who played in the tourney, was mentioned in the book but most of the players in the novel are fictional although some are based on real players – the same goes for some events.

I wrote All Native because I thought it was crazy that there was very little written on it besides the program-style history done by Len Harrington in the 70s, and in news articles and the annual tourney program. I didn’t want to do a history, as it is not really my thing. Also, the resources tell conflicting stories, and many of the people who were there in the early years, have passed on.

And, so, I decided to instead do it as a narrative and weave the tourney’s history and lore into a story about two boys, a father, and their aspirations to play in the tournament. Many things happen in the story that have nothing to do with the tournament but it always comes back to it.

There is one scene based on personal experience and that is the one in which a young Nate watches the senior men’s final with his father, Frank. Much of that is derived from a game I watched with my dad, when we both cheered for the dynastic Rupert Chiefs team. Because of their success and that they were not a village team, most visiting fans (and locals loyal to their villages) booed the Chiefs lustily, and that bothered me. It seemed like a betrayal of our own.

There is a fictional Chiefs player whom is modelled after my favorite player and late uncle, Art Helin. Art was well-liked and had the good humored and gentlemanly characteristics attributed to the character. Bespectacled, thin and long-armed, he had great touch and was a leader, and is a member of the tourney’s Hall of Fame.

I miss Uncle Art, his stories and good humor. I miss my dad, despite his great flaws. The part in the book where Nate tries to help his lame father down the steps and is brushed off because he is too weak is also based on my memories of that night.

I also miss the lady with the 50/50 tickets, the one who wears the funny hats and will wander off while you fill in your tickets and still remember you 20 minutes later when she is retrieving them.

I even miss the door guy at the first entrance across from the men’s bathroom, who takes his job way too seriously and whose favorite line is “you can’t stand there!” When I was a reporter, I would hold up my camera at such admonitions; it was my ticket to be anywhere I wanted to be.

I miss the elders’ kitchen, with the seaweed and rice, fried halibut, and bologna sandwiches; their sweet smiles and stories about my mom and dad.

I miss the voice of Wild William Wesley, who brought us so many games on the radio and whose old school charm and phrases always reminded us that this was a First Nations event. I hope he is enjoying his well-deserved retirement.

I recall when I was, one time only, one of the voices of the All Native. A friend and former Rupert Trojan, Joey Nelson, and I called the tournament one year when The MIX56 AM radio decided to also broadcast the finals. Neither of us had done it before and we were exhausted by the fourth game. Once, when I noted a change in tactics by one of the teams and asked Joey for his thoughts on it, I got nothing. I looked at him, and his eyes were glazed over and his mouth was agape. I had to give him a shot in the arm to wake him up!

My highlight of that one and only sportscaster stint was when, during a halftime break and being desperate to kill time, I interviewed the toweling-off-the-floor boy. One of the questions was what was his preferred technique for wiping sweat off the floor, side to side, or clockwise?

COVID-19 has robbed us of another chapter in this great community event. No exciting games. No seaweed and rice. No long chats with old friends in the auditorium. No economic bump for Rupert’s hotels, shops and restaurants.

The ANT will return, though. We’ll get there. Just think of us as that player slowly making his way up the court, carefully taking his time, waiting until everyone is in place so we can set up that winning shot.

The novel, ALL NATIVE, is currently sold out but a second printing is impending and the book will be available on:

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Every now and then, the greatest single sports event of the year occurs on my birthday. Today is one of those days! That’s right: it’s Super Bowl Sunday and I’m turning something between 30 and 59.

Now, I am not a big celebrator of my own birthday. I do, though, appreciate those who do. Today will be a good day because I not only get to watch my favorite sport but I also get to eat a ton of junk without sneaking around. Festivities, obviously, will be smaller this year but I’m sure it will be a great day. There have been many memorable ones and today, two came to mind.

The first, I didn’t even remember at first, even though it was just last year! Last February 7, my books arrived. I went over to my publisher’s house and did the honors of cracking open that first box of copies of ALL NATIVE. I can’t describe the feeling of being able to scratch one of the top items on my bucket list off, of holding my first novel in my hands. I only remembered today because my publisher, Chris, texted me the photo he took of me holding the book on, fittingly, the street I grew up on.

Despite COVID, it has been a pretty good year for me. The book came out, I got a new job, and most wonderfully, my first, beautiful grandchild. It has had challenges, of course, but I cannot complain as I know many people have had truly tough years. So today, I will appreciate the family who will be spoiling me and the fact that I get to do what so many others don’t.

Of course, today has brought on other memories, including one where the game fell on my birthday and was one of the biggest gong shows I have ever been a part of – and that’s saying something because, as anyone who knows me can attest to, I have been involved in MANY gong shows.

This particular one was a party at Rupert’s Crest Hotel exactly 11 years ago. Many of my family and friends, including most of my flag football team (which was sponsored by the Crest), attended. There was great food, cake, and lots of beer and shooters. And violence – oh, don’t worry. It’s now comical, as such stories often are.

You see, at some point that night, my buddy, whom I will keep anonymous by calling him Stef Esso, punched me in the face. Now, don’t feel bad; remember, this is a funny story!

I don’t remember much of the actual incident but, long story short: I bragged that I could take his best shot and insisted on proving it. I was too blotto to remember it but I woke up the next day to a hundred texts from him, apologizing profusely and asking me to come out to the parking lot (he had been kicked out) and make things right by punching him in the face.

Huh? I thought foggily, as I read his texts. Then, I saw my partner looking down at me with a frown and knew a story was coming. She told me how I had asked him to punch me and then it all started to seep into my memory and I remembered everything up to the punch but not the punch itself.

I recall telling Stef how I could take a punch. I remember boasting that I could even take a punch from the biggest guy in the league, a behemoth whom I shall keep anonymous by calling him Randy Benns. Thankfully, this wasn’t a punch from Randy, from whom I once received a bleeding nose and was left with no feeling in the left side of my face for weeks after I ran into his shoulder trying to get around him in a game.

Of course, all was good between my bud and I but there was a call for revenge from some of the other teammates when the next Super Bowl party rolled around. Of course, I said there was no way that I was going to sucker punch him and they agreed, suggesting a different act: pants-ing.

Now, I had never pants-ed anyone before and was worried that I would bungle it, that I would only get his pants partway down his hips and, once again, the joke would be on me. But, no, instead I proved a natural. It certainly helped that he was wearing sweatpants.

I waited until he had several beers in him which, if you know Stef, was, like, an hour or two into the party. His back was to me and he was holding court, on one of his trademark, epic rambles, standing in front of two tables full of friends.

I snuck up behind, did the ‘shhh’ gesture to everyone, and bang! I whipped his pants down in a flash, all the way down around his ankles. It was a perfect pants-ing … although there was one thing that I didn’t expect: he wasn’t wearing underwear.

Everyone roared in laughter and I howled at the unexpected sight of his bare ass. But, if the whole idea behind the act was revenge, it failed miserably because Stef’s reaction was to act as if nothing had happened. He just stood there, as everyone chuckled, and had another drink of his beer and continued on with his ramble, only pulling his pants up when bar staff insisted. It was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.

Today, I am wearing my Crest Saints jersey, and I remember the days when we could all hit each other then later shake hands and gather for drinks and laughs.

I have so many good friends because of sports. Even most of those who were bitter rivals are now friends. That’s why I believe strongly in the after-game handshake ritual, because without the other team, there’s no game. It’s our way of saying thanks for coming out and making this game happen.

So, hey, thanks to everyone who wished me a happy birthday today. I know I haven’t always been a good person and pissed a lot of people off but many of you are still there. You’ve forgiven me. You’ve stuck with me. You’ve supported me in my efforts.

A special thanks to my beautiful partner, whom I will keep anonymous by calling her Gronya, and who always spoils me on this day. Thanks as well to my kids and family, who have endured my quirks for so long. And a special thanks to my niece, Caire, today, who is working hard on today’s treats.

And, now, onto the big game!

It’s a great matchup between a quick, talented kid who is a fantastic improviser, and an old gunslinger with plenty of guile. I like the kid, and the Chiefs should win but, today, I’m going to go with guile because, well, eventually, that’s all many of us are left with. And, sometimes, it’s enough.

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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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All Native

The debut novel for Aboriginal author Rudy Kelly.



1640 - 7th Avenue East

Prince Rupert, BC



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