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 fog of sleep was thick that morning when my nine-year-old niece’s voice cut through it. She was yelling as she came up the stairs to where my room, one of three on the top floor of our house, was at the end of the hallway.

At first, I was annoyed, being hungover and planning to sleep for a few more hours but, then, one word cut through the haze: FIRE. She was screaming it and saying that everyone had to get out. I sat up quickly, along with my girlfriend, eyes wide and suddenly feeling very sober and alert. The door was right next to the bed and I pulled it open and saw smoke. Holy shit. This is real, I thought, and we hustled to get dressed.

I can’t remember if our shoes were downstairs or in the room but we didn’t have any as we hurried through the hallway and down the stairs to the second floor as the smoke got thicker. We could hear others yelling. Besides my niece, my parents and five other siblings were in the house.

We ran down the second floor hallway, to the front door and down the front steps, gasping as the cold air shocked us. We got clear of the house and I stopped briefly, at the top of the small stairway that led to the street. I did a quick visual check to see if anyone was missing and then, once all were accounted for, I looked at the house to confirm what I already knew: it was gone. No chance that it would be saved.

I joined the others across the street, where we went to make room for the fire truck and firefighters. It wasn’t everyone. Some had stayed up on the walkway.

At one point, one of my brothers had to dash back in to get my mom, who he found sitting on the couch, disoriented, and muttering about forgetting something. It was as if she had decided to go down with the ship.

Once everyone was accounted for, we all huddled together and watched in shock as the place that we called home for 20 years burned and crackled in protest. It was like a living thing, that had held us in its arms for so long, given us comfort and joy but was also the setting for many horrors. All we could do was watch it die. I wanted to tell it I was sorry.

Due to the cold, it took awhile for the fire department to get the water going from the hydrant but there was little that could be done. We stood on the freezing ground in our socks for about 15 minutes before the family in the house next door kindly invited us in. We knew them well; two of the girls were good friends of mine and they made us hot chocolate and fed us. While we warmed up, I heard from my brothers that the fire had been caused by our dad.

It was a very cold day and our pipes were frozen. My dad and the oldest brother were trying to fix it. At some point, my brother was sent to the store for something and my dad was supposed to wait for his return, but he didn’t. He decided to start without him and took a blow-torch to the pipes on the ground floor. Well, our house was old and filled with cobwebs, and flames were shooting up through the house in no time.

A common theory among the siblings was that if my dad had just waited for my brother to return and they had taken whatever alternative action they had discussed, the house would have still been there, that my dad wouldn’t have used a blow torch near the downstairs ceiling. I’m not sure it would have mattered.

My dad was not the kind of man who took blame easily. He saw faults in others far easier than he did in himself. And so, he took a defensive stance, even suggesting that my brother had taken too long, although his tone was half-hearted. Some of my siblings cast my dad as an old fool and they held a grudge for many years. I saw no point in that as I was certain that no one felt worse about it than him.

I don’t believe in signs, messages of fate, but I felt that this one was hitting me over the head. Yes, I was planning to go to school but it still wasn’t one-hundred-percent firm due to the good money I was making at the fish plant. I knew that most reporters were making considerably less and was considering putting school off for a year or two, which could have easily become three or four or …

No. I was heartbroken and I needed to get away. It wasn’t just the house going; it was the negativity and anger that followed, coursed through the family for years, and that could have pulled me down. I was going and I called my sister in Calgary, who said she could put me up until I found a place of my own.

Before I went, though, I would enter my house, my room, one last time. It was alcohol-infused idiocy and one of numerous such moments that I was lucky to survive.

A few days after the fire, I went back to the property to look at the skeleton of 124 – 4th Avenue East. It was gutted but remained standing. With the temperature still below zero, ice created by the fire hoses covered much of the building, making it look like a giant, melted doll house. To go inside it, let alone up three stories to my room, would be very dangerous.

But I had to go in. One last time.

Next on THE WRITE ROAD: Farewell to my home and onto Cowtown.




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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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All Native

The debut novel for Aboriginal author Rudy Kelly.

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