Kelly Boutsalis - Good and Accurate Representation of Indigenous People
By Erin Blondeau
“We need you,”
Kelly Boutsalis, a freelance journalist, called out to all aspiring Indigenous writers.
“There is a huge appetite for our stories––finally, told by us. We need you out here telling these stories, too.”
Boutsalis is from Six Nations and currently lives in Toronto. Her work has been featured in The New York Times, Refinery29, The Walrus, The Narwhal, and NOW Magazine, among others. She met with Matriarch Movement Podcast host Shayla Oulette Stonechild to talk about the importance of Indigenous stories and representation in media, and to share her own story with all of us.
Uplifting Indigenous Voices
Though Boutsalis grew up on the Six Nations reserve near Hamilton (Ontario), she moved to Toronto when she was nineteen. She knew she was meant to share stories on a bigger stage than what was available in her home community. As Boutsalis explained, she’s been a storyteller since she was a child.
“I was kind of that kid that was always writing short stories, and forcing their friends to read it,” she told Stonechild, “it kind of seemed like a foregone conclusion that I was always going to write, I just didn’t know where.”
Her journey as a writer started with short stories, and moved into reporting events in the local newspaper, to eventually working as a long-time staff writer. She is now a full-time freelance writer, focussed on Indigeneity and inspiring a new generation of Indigenous writers to come forth and tell our stories.
Climbing to Center Stage
The thrill of moving to a big city is something that Boutsalis knows well, but as she explained to Stonechild, leaving traditional communities as Indigenous people can be challenging. We face leaving behind family, our relationship with the land, and moving into new places with scarce Indigenous representation and leadership. These missing stories are significant because representation matters.
“It does so much to the spirit and to self esteem,” she told Stonechild.
After a century of white-dominated stories, the mainstream media has finally started to change to include Indigenous representation, but is still lacking in editorial or senior roles.
For Aspiring Writers
Though the mainstream media does not center Indigenous voices (yet), Boutsalis says that she does not censor herself and will bend the rules when she has to. Ensuring that Indigenous people can control their own stories is incredibly important.
As a way to inspire Indigenous youth, Boutsalis hopes for her writing to reach them in an organic way, like when they’re out shopping or waiting at the doctor’s office.
“I want to continue to put these stories out there into non-Indigneous media spaces, so that other non-Indigenous people can see our faces and realize that we are not stuck in the past. We are not our traumas. We are not these negative portrayals. And try to combat those falsehoods about us.”
Boutaslis says she is always willing to connect with aspiring Indigenous writers, an offer that I view as a pinnacle of decolonization. In a world where everything is monetized and competitive (especially in the world of writing), finding someone who is willing to be a place of contact with a goal to strengthen Indigenous identity, feels like an incredible act of Indigenization.
“Decolonizing is bringing the Indigenous point of view back,” Boutsalis explained.
This is an exciting time to be an Indigenous person, as talented and devoted people like Boutsalis are fighting for resurgence and representation in a white-dominated world.
Listen to the latest podcast episode with Boutsalis to hear more.