British Columbia

Action at All Native Basketball tournament creates backdrop for new novel from B.C. author

A new novel by Prince Rupert, B.C., author Rudy Kelly builds on the the significance of the All Native Basketball tournament.

Rudy Kelly seeks to capture the energy of the huge annual event in Prince Rupert, B.C.

Author Rudy Kelly with his novel, All Native. (Muskeg Press/Facebook)

The annual All Native Basketball Tournament, held in Prince Rupert, B.C., is the largest basketball tournament in the province and an important backdrop for North Coast First Nations life, according to a local author.

While the event often generates commentary — about sports and wider issues — author Rudy Kelly, from the Lax Kw'alaams First Nation, wanted to capture a different side of the tournament through his first novel. 

"I wanted to tell a Rupert story," Kelly said. "The All Native Tournament, I think, hasn't really got as much of its story told as it should have considering how big of a tournament [it is]."

Kelly's book, All Native, follows the fictional story of Nate Wesley, a young Prince Rupert boy, who wants to play in the All Native Basketball Tournament, partly to make his dad proud.

He says it draws heavily on his childhood in Prince Rupert. Set in the North Coast port city during 1960s and '70s, Kelly's novel is a story of Prince Rupert in flux, with fish plants all along the waterfront, lots of money floating around and a sense of unease between coastal First Nations and new people moving into town.

Lax Kw'alaams dancers from the 2019 opening ceremony of the All Native Basketball Tournament. (Nicole Oud/CBC)

"I'm trying to tell that story of what a tumultuous time it was for First Nations people," Kelly said. "This story [is] a little bit of a fly-on-the-wall look at First Nations families and how they grew up and what their concerns were."

He says the tournament, which began in 1960, functioned like "a potlatch of sorts."

Potlatches, gift-giving feasts and celebrations common across the Pacific Northwest, were banned by the Canadian government in 1884. The ban was not lifted until 1951 and caused long-lasting, negative effects.

Kelly said the tournament filled a void.

"The tournament was a really good way of bringing families together and kind of remembering who they were ... a reminder of, yeah, this really is our home after all," Kelly said.

He says while the event, which brings together thousands of people from different First Nations across the coast, has an air of celebration, there is also a kind of melancholy.

"At the end of the tournament, you see people hugging and shaking hands and kind of like, 'I may not see you again, or I may not come to this event again. This may be my last tournament,' " said Kelly.

"The older people, say, 'you know I  never know when it's is going to be my last tournament.' So they really like to drink it in and appreciate it."

All Native, published by Muskeg Press, officially launches on Feb. 15. 

Listen to the segment on Daybreak North here:

Rudy Kelly speaks with the CBC's Matt Allen about his new work of fiction, 'All Native'. 6:27

With files from Daybreak North