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 following is the fourth installment in a series of posts on Racism and Aboriginal People. I will be wrapping it up with some final thoughts on the weekend.

It’s pretty hard for a nation built on the overthrow and oppression of a people to not have racism ingrained in its institutions. And, besides government, what institution would have racism more deeply embedded than the police, whose job was to ensure the conquered understood their place and stayed there?

Obviously, the current role of the RCMP has changed but Aboriginal people, with all of our problems, make for an easy target, much easier than the rich and influential, the guys they golf with and whose homes their kids sleep over at. I imagine Aboriginal people are somewhat of a nuisance to police, who too often have to break up their parties and pick them up off the streets.

I know the RCMP pretty well. I had several run-ins with them in my youth. I also worked with them a lot over the last 20 years, first as a program director at the Friendship House and, then, as a recreation director in the village of Lax Kw’alaams. As you might guess, my relationship with them was much different and mostly unpleasant in my early years. I got into my share of trouble as a kid. I shoplifted, I was a vandal, I was mouthy. I got myself into situations that invited police intervention.

I think when we discuss police using excessive force, it’s important to start there, with the assumption that there was a good reason for the police to be engaging with or arresting someone. By starting with “the guy was no angel” reason, it dispenses with the apologist’s lines, like “the dude was shoplifting” or “he called the cop a pig and flipped him the bird” or, in the case of George Floyd, “he was using counterfeit money” and “he was high.” All of those are bad behavior or crimes but very thin reasoning for excessive force.

Yes, someone suspected of a crime needs to be questioned and, when applicable, brought in. That’s it. If a suspect asks questions, they have every right to. Whatever the charge they are facing, it must be explained. That’s not “mouthing off.” Every public service job, at all levels, understands and is trained for belligerent people and has standard tactics for dealing with them.

Even when a person physically resists or throws a punch, there are stop points. You have them subdued and under control? Ask them if they’re in distress, don’t inflict further pain. And just because someone throws a punch doesn’t mean it is now a fight, officially called, like in the schoolyard, and you’re allowed to get some shots in and ad some flourish while he’s down.

I always felt Aboriginal people were given special attention by the RCMP. Cops often pulled over to ask me and my Aboriginal friends what we were doing when we were just walking down the street. We knew the answer they were looking for, so we always said we were on our way home.

When I was in my teens, there was one constable in town who was well known for his feelings towards Aboriginal people. He wasn’t alone but he was the most brazen about it. One night, I got caught drinking in the bushes by the Savoy Hotel. I was with a couple of buddies and this particular constable singled me out because I was challenging their physical handling of us. They weren’t striking us, but they were grabbing us and shaking us, and I made the mistake of saying they couldn’t do that. The notorious constable tossed me into the back seat of his vehicle.

I thought I was being brought to the police station, that maybe he was going to throw me into a cell to scare me. But instead of taking me to the station, he took me down a secluded road to a small clearing, with no residences nearby, and told me to get out. When I stepped out, he pushed me away from the car, glared at me and said that “I could beat the shit out of you right here and now, and no one would care.” I was scared. He was a cop and a big man. I thought I could actually be killed because all it takes is a good crack from one of those big flashlights or a good boot to the head. I didn’t talk back and, thankfully, scare me was all he wanted to do that night. I knew of others who had not been so lucky.

Another time, I was at a party that had gotten out of hand and the police came to break it up. Again, the question is not if they had legitimate cause; it’s how they went about it. They stormed the house, at which I was a guest and invited to spend the night. I was sitting on the couch, posing no threat, when they hauled me up and cuffed me. They kept yelling at me to quit resisting, even though I wasn’t. How could I in that position? My hands were behind my back and I was being dragged by my elbows.

They kept pulling my elbows up so hard as they dragged me that I thought my shoulders were going to pop out. When we got to the police suburban, they stopped to deliberately ram my face into the bumper for chuckles before tossing me into the vehicle. I now have a bridge where my original two front teeth used to be.

For those of you who were anticipating some kind of amazing, revelatory solution to the police problem, I’m afraid I will disappoint you. I don’t think you can virtually eliminate the police, as some people have suggested. Rather than de-fund, I’d prefer to see us de-emphasize certain things and re-direct some money and resources.

We could involve more social workers, to react to issues that cops are not adequately trained for and may actually escalate simply by their presence. There are many calls police get that don’t require guns or a presence that is aggressive, whether real or perceived.

Training is crucial. Take advantage of those constables that “get it,” that have made in-roads, and have them teach others, using their experiences. I have had the pleasure of working with several RCMP members who became part of the Aboriginal community and were always warmly greeted. They made an effort, not just when in uniform but also on their off days, to show true interest about who we are.

Prince Rupert once had a pair of constables who patrolled on bicycles, who were very connected to our Aboriginal youth. They regularly dropped into the youth centre and I often saw them chatting with youth on the street. The kids ran to them when they saw them. Like too many success stories, the program was de-funded and dropped for no apparent reason.

It bears repeating: knowing people is half the battle. How many times have you had your impression of someone changed merely by having a lengthy conversation with him/her? It’s the same with a group of people. Watching how they do things, why they do things, what is important to them, builds empathy and that erodes bigotry.

So, while shifting some response duties over to social workers could be a part of the solution, let’s try better education and understanding with the RCMP – and not the pamphlet and weekend course variety but in person, over a long period of time, where they can not only learn but participate.

And put them back on bikes, back on the street again, visiting Aboriginal people wherever they are so that, one day, our meetings with them will be more about “hey, what’s up?” instead of shit, what did I do?

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The following is the third installment of a series of articles on racism and Aboriginal people, and my experiences and thoughts on it.

One of my favorite TV shows ever, The Colbert Report, featured host Stephen Colbert as an ultra-right Conservative, ala Bill O’Reilly. A running gag on the show had him occasionally referencing his one “black friend” and showing a photo of them together. It’s a humorous play on the phrase, “I have black/Aboriginal friends,” which some people considered proof that they were not racist. The phrase is still used a lot. It shouldn’t be.

While it may sound like you’re saying you don’t care if someone is brown, it also sounds like you’re saying there are some “good ones” out there, that aren’t like “the others” and so they are, thus, worthy of your friendship. Just like the phrase “not all Indians are …” drunks or thieves, or whatever negative label follows, suggests that most of them are.

I used to use the expression myself, in an all-Aboriginal setting, saying “I have a lot of white friends who are good people.” Now, I just say something like, “there are assholes everywhere – including in this room,” which usually gets a laugh and a nod. I really believe that the majority of people who make racist slurs have just had bad experiences or, in the case of minorities, are venting about the inequities that white privilege has generated.

There is, of course, real hatred out there, from people who genuinely feel dark people are inferior or a threat and it is incumbent on everyone to speak against it. I bit my tongue in those two instances mentioned in the previous posts and it haunts me. I’d like to share with you a time, though, when I didn’t stay silent and, more importantly, neither did others.

It was in the Mount Royal College bar in Calgary in the mid-80s. I was out with a white friend from the journalism program and we joined a group of his friends, who were all white. We watched a hockey game on the TV and when it was over, we asked the bartender to look for some more sports. After flicking around for a bit, he found an NBA basketball game. Most of us nodded to indicate we were fine with basketball but one of the guys said, “Aw, shit, no. Who wants to watch nigger ball??”

I don’t know why I chose this moment to react, especially since I was surrounded by white people in a cowboy city, but my reaction was instantaneous and volcanic. I grabbed the guy by his collar, stood up, and exclaimed, “What the fuck did you say!?” We got into it, exchanging a couple of blows before we were broken up by the gang and the bartender, who said that we both had to go.

Then, a wonderful thing happened.

One of the women at the table nodded at me and said, “he shouldn’t have to go,” and explained that it was their friend who was “being an asshole.” The rest of the group concurred and told the bartender what their friend had said to set me off. The bartender glared at the guy and told him that, now, it was only him that had to leave. I stayed and enjoyed the rest of the night with my new friends.

That was in Calgary, over 30 years ago! And I have seen similar moments many times since, where good people stood up and did the right thing.

It’s not easy to stand up but none of this, if we’re going to achieve real change, is going to be. The atmosphere at work is going to change. Friendships will be challenged or lost. It’s going to be uncomfortable. In other words, welcome to our world.

Long-standing institutions are also going to be challenged, which we’re seeing now with the call for big changes in policing. And that is where I will venture in my next post: my experiences with the RCMP as an Aboriginal youth and what I think police reform could look like.

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This blog series was supposed to be just two parts, but it has opened up a lot more thoughts and feelings for me and blossomed into four parts! The entry following this will wrap up my personal experiences and thoughts on racism and Aboriginal people and, in the final installment, I will share my experiences and thoughts on policing and the call for big changes on how it’s done.

I thank those of you who gave me so much positive feedback on the first installment!

In my first post on Aboriginals and racism and my experiences with it, I talked about the “others,” those large numbers of Aboriginal people who are still on the margins of society, and how I got over the wall and found success and acceptance in the white world. To many, I was an “apple;” red on the outside, white on the inside.

My being who I am is not something I’m either proud or ashamed of. I’m happy to be where I am at: financially comfortable, with a wonderful partner and family, and doing what I like to do. Unless you were an artist or fisherman, or working in the fish plant, the road I took was one most Aboriginal people had to travel to achieve success.

In my first post, I mentioned how I fit in so well with white people that, sometimes, they forgot that I was Aboriginal. Besides the moment noted in my first post, where a friend said, “let’s go beat up some Indians,” another stands out.

I was in my late teens and at a white friend’s house, and one of his family members was arguing with another guest about Aboriginal land rights, which was a big deal then as the Nisga’a were embroiled in their land claims. One of the adult family members, who opposed land claims, got very worked up and exclaimed, “those people don’t deserve to live!”

A pall fell over the room. Everyone else looked at me, stunned and stricken by what he had said. The man noticed their expressions and where they were looking, and slowly turned his head to look at me. He had forgotten what I was, I suppose; just another white person whom I had fooled, unintentionally, into thinking I wasn’t an Indian, even though I was as brown as they get. He said nothing. He just sat down on his chair. I stood, and said, “I guess I better go,” and left.

As I walked home that night, I was confused. First, I thought, why did he say that? What was it about us that made him think we didn’t deserve to live? My other question was to myself. Where did I belong?

My shift into the white world was part necessity, part desire. Necessity because I wanted to do well in school and many of my Aboriginal buds from my elementary school days were dropping out. And desire, because the white crowd was the cool crowd and the girls were so pretty and clean. Yes, I was prejudiced against my own and believed the white girls were prettier because I was bombarded with the perception that being attractive was being white.

Even my dad, who was a big chief (in photo), did not try to instill the traditions and language in me. As I went through school, won writing accolades and contests, he would tell me in private that I had to be the one to get out, that “you don’t want to be like the others.”

Often, I fantasized about being white, about being rich (which I assumed 99 per cent of white people were) and being accepted. Who wouldn’t want that, and also think that being the opposite of it was inferior? White people had better homes, better cars, better clothes, better toys.

Having grown up poor, frugality is embedded in me. I use things, clothes, furniture, dishes, until they are outgrown or falling apart. But I think it’s more than just being frugal; part of me doesn’t want to let go of who I was. So, I cling to the ratty jacket, the worn-out shoes, and the rummage sale ball hockey goalie gear (I used an umpire’s mask, baseball glove and foam pads for the longest time). It was just a few years ago that I broke down and finally got myself a sport jacket. All of my really good clothes were acquired in shopping excursions led by and paid for by my partner (and I love her for it). Dressing nice still feels weird.

People often say that I should be proud of myself but pride is not a feeling I am comfortable with. I consider myself lucky because I know that there were many times along the road where things could have gone south, and I could have just as easily ended up like many Aboriginal people. I am a fan of the expression “there but for the grace of God …” but, not being religious, I revise it to “there but for some luck and the help of others, go I.”

I know that I have made much of my own way, but I caught some breaks and, most importantly, some good people believed in me, some good people gave me a chance. I hope for and encourage those of you who have also been fortunate, to pay it forward and extend the same courtesy to the others.

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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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