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.

There is a saying about being careful of meeting your idols. Chances are, you’ll be disappointed, that when you look beyond the things you love them for, you’ll find warts of character and actions.

Usually, when we’re confronted with criticisms of our idols, we react angrily, unreasonably. Oh, I don’t mind being wrong about a policy or who said what to whom, but tell me that one of my idols was a jerk? Dem’s fightin’ words!

We are an idol society. We love to put people on pedestals. Oprah is the wisest woman in the world. She gets me. Donald Trump loves America, shoots from the hip and tells it like it is. Ken Dryden is one of the best goalies ever, brilliant, and a wonderful human being! (okay, that last one is me saying it but, damn it, he’s a great guy!)

The choice with some monuments are obvious.

Pulling down Saddam Hussein’s statue after the Iraq war? Sure. He was a brutal dictator who gassed his own citizens.

In the U.S., confederate leaders were fighting to keep slavery, that is what the civil war was about, so taking down those memorials should be a no-brainer. It isn’t though. A considerable segment of people in the U.S. south still laments the defeat and considers black people to be inferior and dangerous.

Here in Canada, we have calls for some of our monuments to come down, the most contentious, of course, being statues of our first and long-time Prime Minister, John A. Macdonald. Macdonald is considered the “father of our country” for getting all of the colonies/provinces on board and being the architect of the national railway that secured our coast to coast territory that might have otherwise been split up.

Unfortunately, Macdonald’s tactics in building the railway and his treatment of the country’s indigenous people were ghastly. According to a recent article in the National Post, even in the context of the time, Macdonald “pursued an indigenous policy so draconian that even his contemporaries accused him of going beyond the pale.” Macdonald’s edicts included a campaign of starvation and attrition, the public hangings of the Red River Rebellion, and the creation of residential schools.

It should be noted that Macdonald’s racist policies were not confined to Indigenous people. He also imposed a head tax on Chinese immigrants and once told the Commons that the Chinese should not be given a vote because Canada’s “Aryan nature” could be upset by a “mongrel race” formed by the breeding of whites and Asians.

Still, despite all that, I have mixed emotions on the matter.

Generally, I believe that monuments of evil people, people who did or advocated for horrible things, crimes against humanity, should be brought down. I don’t buy the argument that this would be “destroying history” because a monument is just a speck of history. History is spoken, told by people. It’s in books and on film. Nobody gets a better understanding of history by looking at a statue that paints the figure in the noblest light.

This all said, is it fair to judge Macdonald on his indigenous policies when it was essentially the same everywhere, where colonizers were seizing lands and racism was the norm? Is it fair to single him out since whoever was PM at the time would have likely done the same?

Ultimately, I think we must fall back on the wishes of those who were hurt and who are offended. Macdonald was the main architect of the decimation of indigenous tribes and the abusive residential school system that stripped a people of their culture and dignity. If paying homage to him is an affront to those people, their wishes should be honored. Their pain is real. The offense they take is real. It’s the same as someone who has worn an Indian costume or used the term “Jew’d me down in price.” Many people who did that did not hate indigenous people or Jews, and now that they know better, they don’t do it.

The push-back on this idea is coming mostly from white, “old stock” Canadians, who are always fearful of dramatic changes, particularly anything that threatens the power structures that they have benefited from for centuries. Most of Canada’s statues, monuments and buildings are not just reminders of white Canada and its dominance, but tributes to it.

What it comes down to is the truth, and does it matter to us? I think it should.

If Canadians are serious about reconciliation, they should be taking more concrete steps to “indigenize” our cities, the way Vancouver is with the renaming of places and buildings, and remodeling places to recognize the area’s first inhabitants. Literal changes, ones you can see and touch every day, really do help advance systemic changes.

We cannot be patient. We have been patient enough. We need to strike while the iron is hot and keep pushing for these changes, or the movement becomes just another passing fad, a flare-up, and we slide back to where we were … again. And we may find ourselves in a similar situation to what is happening in the States, where its old guard and a resurgent army of racists has become energized and is pushing back to the point where violence seems inevitable.

Today is Canada Day and, for the first time in memory, there was no party, no big community gathering. I usually take part in some way but I’m a modest celebrant and just wear something “Canadian,” like a Habs or Jays jersey.

While COVID-19 is responsible for the cancellation of events, the day has been muted, in general. Perhaps this is due to recent events such as the call for an end to systemic racism which, along with unresolved land issues, has many Aboriginals feeling less Canadian and caused some of them to take to the streets today to call attention to it. As an “apple,” I think I have a fairly broad perspective on the issue, which gives me a confused relationship with Canada.

I was not raised in a traditional way. I was not taught the language (except for the swear words and insults!) and most of the traditions. Much of what I do know about my tribal traditions I learned from funerals and working at Aboriginal organizations. This detachment has made me less of a romantic about “our ways,” some of which I find to be muddled and contentious.

The hereditary system, for instance, is essentially the same as the monarchy system, where power, possessions and land/water rights is passed down to family members. But so much is based on memory, oral history, and families don’t always agree. Is great leadership inherent in families? Of course not. In any group, for every strong member, there are at least two schlubs. Every society has flaws in its traditional ways and the world keeps changing so most of those ways are destined to become the “old ways.”

Certainly, the crimes that came from colonization have left wounds and anger that may never heal completely. Still, here we are. We cannot turn back the clock. The manner in which a new society was thrust upon Aboriginal people was horrific and poorly executed, and there is need for reparations and reconciliation. But, change and upheaval was inevitable.

This modern society that we live in has many ills but also many good things that we wouldn’t give up. We live longer and can communicate and travel across great distances in a short time. Food and necessities are in abundance - but not for all, and we really need to address that. We have a democracy that, while flawed, still allows us to choose our leaders.

And Canada tries. It tries to be fair to its Aboriginal people and other minorities, to level the playing field, to be just and compassionate. But the primary purpose of all governments is to get re-elected and that means not rocking the boat too much, so it’s unrealistic to expect significant change at anything but a glacial pace. Unless, of course, we have a violent revolution, and I don’t see that happening. That doesn’t mean, though, that we don’t fight for changes with urgency NOW because, otherwise, it might never get done.

I look around, I watch the news and I know that here, in Canada, we have it better than a large majority of the people on the planet. War, droughts, famine, corrupt governments, and brutal regimes occupy much of the world. And, by most quality of life metrics, Canada is at or near the top of the heap.

Does standing atop that quality of life list make a country the best in the world? Of course not. A country is not just about its land, or its wealth, its systems and services, or its military might. It is also about people and everywhere I go, whether the country is rich or poor, communist, democratic, I find a lot of good people. And I never think, my country is better than yours. That is what nationalists think.

I can live with patriotism, but nationalism is a scourge, no less than racism. It says we are better than others. It is the root of the moral decay of the U.S. and that decay, because of the nation’s immense influence, adversely affects the rest of the world. Every U.S. president I have known, and most U.S. leaders in any area, has called the U.S. “the greatest country in the world” at one point or another and suggested that, because of that, it was its destiny to lead and transform the world.

It is nationalism that caused Colin Kaepernick to lose his job. It puts objects and symbols, like a flag or an anthem, that are said to represent ideals above people and freedom. That is why, during ceremonies, I don’t stare at our flag with blind conviction and I rarely sing the national anthem (although part of that is due to the lyrics, which is a different discussion).

It’s not that I don’t love Canada. I just don’t worship it. It doesn’t belong on a pedestal – no country does. It’s like family members. I love them but I know they are imperfect. They need work. They can be annoying at times and have done shit that wasn’t cool. But I still want to live with them because I know them well and I think that they mean well and, most importantly, can change.

The following is my fifth and final installment in my blog series on racism and Aboriginal people. I thank those of you who have been following it, for your interest and for your supportive words.


This has been a very emotional series of articles for me. Some of the things I have shared, I did for the first time ever or first time since around the time they happened. I have been an “Indian.” I am an “apple.” The Indian has never left. He’s always there and more often feels the most real.

I am very fortunate to be where I am today. Part of it may have been resilience but good people, their influence, played a big part. My mother was a rock, who sheltered me from violence as best she could and sneaked me food when I was hiding from my dad’s rage. Ironically, it was my dad who was responsible for me going to college and whose surprising open-ended apology, whispered in my ear on one of his last Christmases, gave me some measure of release.

And there were white people, lots of them who treated me as an equal and who told me I was better than I thought, who pushed me to succeed and never seemed uneasy around my family or any other Aboriginal people. There aren’t many urban places that would have happened in, besides Prince Rupert.

Rupert has one of the largest ratios of Aboriginal to white people of any city in Canada and, I would guess, anywhere in the world. Being exposed to Aboriginal people all the time meant that white people, more often than not, didn’t have to go to where they live because they were already there. They worked with us, they played with us.

The play part was huge for me. I love sports and what better way to break down barriers than by joining a team and becoming part of a common goal where you all need to support each other to succeed. I played lots of floor-hockey, ball-hockey, flag football and softball and, in all of them, there was a mix of ethnicities. I know that perceptions and attitudes were changed in some white players. I not only heard it in their words and saw it in their demeanor, but I felt it. I made life-long friends through sports and over half of them were white.

School, on the other hand, was a mixed bag. There was considerable racism there, from students and staff. But it has changed over the years. Many districts are adopting curriculums that include significant components on Aboriginal history, customs and language.

Education will be the most important tool in putting a dent in racism. The long hidden truth of the cruelty and efforts to crush a people and their culture, the stories of the reserve system and residential schools and their devastating and long-lasting effects that, in turn, created the perception of the inferior, “dirty Indian,” are being taught in our schools. Kids and their parents will understand why most Aboriginals live in poverty which, in turn, spawns crime.

Understanding how Aboriginals got to where they are will also help white kids realize how they got to where they are, and that they had an edge. They’ll find out that, while in theory, we all run the same 100-metre track, many people begin at the 20-metre or 50-metre point and few of them are Aboriginal.

It’s going to be hard to bring real change, real equality. If I were a betting man, I wouldn’t put money on it happening in my lifetime because, unfortunately, it will probably take a literal revolution to make the changes in the institutions and traditions, particularly the political and financial ones, that are necessary for it. Privilege is usually something that has to be torn away. I hope I am wrong about that.

For those of you still struggling with the concept of white privilege, it doesn’t mean that you are not poor, are not struggling, and do not get pulled over or brutalized by police. It just means that those situations don’t occur because of the color of your skin. And, since you personally didn’t create this privilege, you don’t have to apologize for it. Just acknowledge it. And talk to others who share that privilege about how unfair it is to so many of those who don’t.


Peace and love, my friends.

Products

Product

All Native

The debut novel for Aboriginal author Rudy Kelly.

Contact

1640 - 7th Avenue East

Prince Rupert, BC

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