For over 6 or 7 decades, one of the province’s most hotly contested annual sports competitions has been taking place in Prince Rupert – the All-Native Basketball tournament. It’s the largest basketball tournament in British Columbia, but it’s much more than that. It is an indigenous cultural phenomenon that draws dozens of teams and communities from the northwest, the central coast, and beyond.
It’s also the backdrop for All-Native, the debut novel of Prince Rupert’s Rudy Kelly. A former journalist who covered the annual tournament for the daily newspaper, Kelly leans into his own ancestry to produce a multi-generational story about a Tsimshian family, spanning the 1960s to the 1980s.
The story breathes in the salty sea air of Prince Rupert, and takes us to the fish canneries, the working-class bars, the wharves, and the First Nations villages. Then and now, Prince Rupert is very much an indigenous mosaic, drawing residents from Tsimshian, Haida, Nisga’a, Haisla, Gitxsan and other peoples along the coast. It’s a unique place that has had its share of struggles, but the embrace by First Nations of basketball as a vehicle for community building has endured.
The passion for the All-Native tournament is conveyed through main characters Frank Wesley and his son Nate, both who have high hopes on the hardwood. As the reader settles in to All-Native, he or she will discover that the book is less about the tournament and more about the father-son dynamic in the Wesley family -one that exists in many families: the transfer of the father’s dreams onto the son, the striving to make one’s own mark, the awkward code that exists between fathers and sons that requires the interpretive skills and conciliation of the mother. In this story, the father-son relationship is upended by the emergence of Nate’s friend, BJ, a free spirit with an outgoing and, sometimes, mischievous manner. Inevitably, Nate is torn between loyalties to father and friend.
The emotional centre of the story is Nate – loyal, innocent, and likeable. From childhood, he is focused on playing in the All-Native. Upon entering the local high school in grade 8, he is in awe of the “hallowed halls” where the best played on the Rainmakers senior team. He is not a kid hoping to bust out of town – his heroes are near to him. The other characters revolve around him, before finding their own trajectory. Nate is the unfulfilled future for Frank and the ballast for BJ. Ultimately, the story becomes one of redemption and forgiveness. Kelly navigates authentically through sensitive and turbulent emotional issues.
The story also has a light touch and sense of humour. These are boys growing up, a coming-of-age fuelled by bologna sandwiches and Orange Crush, thinking a lot about girls (or hoping not to). For those who grew up during the time-frame of this book, you will find yourself recognizing a childhood that came before iPads and personal computers.
Indigenous novelists, like Eden Robinson and Terese Marie Mailhot, help bridge a cultural gulf by sharing their stories with a wider audience. Rudy Kelly’s debut novel is another contribution to improving our understanding of indigenous BC while entertaining with compelling characters in a distinctive setting. It’s a nice addition to the regional stories that help paint a more complete picture of our province, and a welcome break from quarantine.
All-Native was published by Prince Rupert’s Muskeg Press in 2020.
It appears we are spending a lot more time at home than we expected this spring. As viewers scrape the limits of Netflix, Prime, HBO, Disney Plus, and even GEM, there comes a moment where you think you have reached the end of the Internet. I’m here to help!
Recently, the Times of London held a ‘playoff’ of the top political movies of all-time. I was greatly encouraged by what I anticipated to be an elegantly curated list of under-rated political dramas that delivered deep insight and resonated with those of us that closely observe politics. Sadly, the Times under-delivered with a predictable Hollywood-dominated roster and left behind many worthy UK choices.
So, here is my list. I’m not saying they are the best political movies in the world, but I liked them, that’s something. You may have a hard time finding them. They may be relegated to someone’s basement DVD collection or they may be languishing on YouTube in its furthest reaches. That’s on you to find them.
Let’s start with the UK…
You have probably heard of, or seen the move The Queen, starring Helen Mirren. What you may not know is that it is the second instalment of a trilogy starring Michael Sheen as Tony Blair and written by Peter Morgan (The Crown). The Deal is part one.
Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were both elected as Labour MPs in 1983. The up and coming politicians were ambitious, but also opposites – the sunny, media savvy Blair and the dour workhorse Brown. They learnt the ropes during Neil Kinnock’s two failed attempts to win in 1987 and 1992, and then rose to key spots under Kinnock’s successor John Smith. However, Smith died suddenly of a heart attacking 1994, presenting an unanticipated opportunity for Blair and Brown. ‘The deal’ between Blair and Brown, and what was exactly agreed to at Granita restaurant in Islington, is a big part of political lore in the UK, with Brownites feeling Blair overstayed. Brown was never able to secure his own mandate (parallels to the Chrétien-Martin dynamic in Canada).
The third movie in the trilogy, the Special Relationship, looks at the relationship between Blair and Bill Clinton – the weakest of the three movies. Couldn’t really buy in to Dennis Quaid as Clinton.
First Among Equals
Jeffrey Archer wrote the novel in 1984, following the careers of four up-and-coming politicians (two Labour, two Conservative) from the same intake. The story weaves through the 1960s into the 1980s, integrating historical events such as IRA bombings, while dealing with inside political manoeuvrings like seat redistribution, party nominations, and floor crossings. At the heart of it are the relationships between the four politicians and how they evolve over the years. Archer had been a Member of Parliament and knows politics intimately. The novel, and the miniseries give political observers a lot to bite into.
The novel was turned into a 10-part mini-series produced for ITV in 1986 and aired, back then, on PBS. It has been available on YouTube at times. One of the four politicians is played by well-known actor Tom Wilkinson. I have read the novel, and watched the series twice, feeding my political junkie soul and satisfying my love of UK politics.
A Very British Coup
This drama made a splash when it was released as a mini-series in 1988. It is the story of a working-class, hard-left Labour MP who becomes leader and is elected prime minister. Imagine Jeremy Corbyn being elected prime minister and actually following through on his agenda. This is essentially what a Very British Coup carries through, but thirty years earlier. While the plot satisfies lefties who see the deep state resisting the democratic will of the people to unilaterally disarm its nuclear weapons among other things, it’s an interesting political scenario that, in some respects, was a preview of future campaigns (eg. Trump, Bernie, Brexit, presenting a leader who goes against the establishment and taps into popular support. The movie differs from the book it is adapted from, which also inspired the 2012 drama Secret State, starring Gabriel Byrne.
A stylish 2010 film starring Pierce Brosnan, Ewan McGregor, Kim Cattrall, and aforementioned Tom Wilkinson, and directed by Roman Polanski. It’s based on the Robert Harris novel. The plot revolves around a retired UK prime minister who is staying in the US and has become deeply unpopular in his own country over the invasion of Iraq (sound familiar?). Except, everything is not as it seems, and ghost writer Ewan McGregor begins to put the pieces together. Lurking not far from the action is – suspenseful music – the C.I.A.
Harris is a tremendous writer. Check out another of his novels – Imperium.
House of Cards (UK)
It really was a sensation when it was released in 1990. We were all so innocent then. The US-version followed the UK-version quite closely in its early years, mirroring key plot moves. The UK version, for its time, was more daring.
The drama picks up following the demise of the Thatcher government. Francis Urquhart, masterfully played by Ian Richardson, is the Chief Whip for the Conservatives. The second installation in the series, To Play the King, foresees a constitutional crisis with a new king (thinly disguised as Charles III). Filmed in the early 1990s, there is a Diana-dynamic that Urquhart exploits as well.
The final part in the trilogy didn’t stand up to the first two in my opinion. If you like UK politics like I do, and haven’t seen the original House of Cards, you will probably get a kick out of it.
Let’s move on to the US…
Primary Colors / The War Room
These go hand-in-hand. For those millennials out there who missed the 1992 presidential campaign, it was a turning point in politics. With the onset of 24/7 news programming, the Clinton campaign mastered “quick response”. In part, they were facing a very traditional opponent (President George H.W. Bush) and they benefited from a third-party candidate that was chewing through Republican votes (Ross Perot). However, the winners write the history and the documentary The War Room mythologized James Carville and George Stephanopoulos as the new political craftsmen of the 1990s. It certainly helped that Carville is extremely colourful. The documentary was directed by D.A. Pennebaker, one of the greats of all-time. (Footnote on Carville: he starred as himself in the 2003 drama series ‘K Street’. He and his real-life wife Mary Matalin run a fictional K Street lobbying firm. The cast includes ‘Roger’ from Mad Men. Cameos from the likes of Howard Dean are woven into the episodes. It lasted a season. I have the DVD if you’re desperate for it).
A ‘fictional account’ of the 1992 campaign, Primary Colors, was written by ‘Anonymous’. The book was a bestseller though the publisher would not reveal the name of the author. It was clearly someone who knew the inside of the 1992 campaign and the scandals that dogged Bill Clinton over his personal behaviour. It would be revealed that journalist Joe Klein authored the book. By 1998, it was a movie starring John Travolta in the role based on Clinton (I did buy into Travolta), Emma Thompson in the role based on Hillary, and a strong supporting cast. This movie will feel familiar for a lot of former political staffers who encounter a lot of crazy situations, live through controversies and disasters, and make it through to the other side.
Face in the Crowd
This 1957 film directed by Elia Kazan, stars Andy Griffith, well-known as the amiable Mayberry sheriff in the Andy Griffith show and as Matlock. It was Griffith’s debut role and he is a menace.
His character, ‘Lonesome’ Rhodes is a drifter and radio host that was discovered by a media producer. He rises to stardom based on his homespun, southern charm and enjoys considerable influence. However, he is not a positive or even benign influence; he demonstrates a darker side that his enablers – actors Patricia Neal and Walter Matthau – must grapple with. It’s a ride on a populist wave and we see it through the eyes of the populist, on his way up and down.
The 2012 HBO movie is based on the 2008 presidential campaign of John McCain. McCain, played by Ed Harris, is the outsider who must earn the trust of GOP supporters while shaking off the unpopularity of George W. Bush. McCain attempted to recruit his friend and Democratic senator Joe Lieberman to the GOP ticket. When that failed, he went all-in on Alaska governor Sarah Palin. The movie is based on the inside story written by veteran US journalists. We are taken behind the scenes of the McCain campaign and see the sausage being made.
Woody Harrelson plays McCain’s key campaign advisor while Julianne Moore delivers a stellar performance as Sarah Palin – I was beginning to believe I was watching a documentary. The movie takes us through the roller coaster. For about a week, Palin re-energized the McCain campaign and pulled off an exciting speech at the GOP convention. The tracks would soon fall off the snowmobile.
Robert Redford’s portrayal of a long shot would-be senator in The Candidate had a documentary feel and captured a mood coming out of the 1960s of a Baby Boomers seeking to change the status quo. I also like movies that integrate the campaign advisors into the storyline in a sensible way. An interesting sequel would have been Redford as senator after three terms and see what happened to the guy.
Danish drama Borgen is first rate. It follows the career of a centrist politician who finds her way to the top in Denmark’s brokered political system.
Another Scandinavian offering is Occupied (Netflix), a drama set in Norway that sees into the not-to-distant future where Russia occupies Norway to secure its oil supplies, with backing from the EU.
Again, from the UK, for its broad sweep of British history, you have to pay homage to The Crown, though the latest season is a bit tiring. What I like about the Crown is that deviations from history are quickly reviewed and chewed over. The Bodyguard (Netflix) is a political thriller that has a bit of sizzle to it.
Thanks to loyal reader Bruce Burley, I am reminded of Boss, starring Kelsey Grammar as a tough as nails mayor of Chicago, fighting his own private health battle, and not afraid to overcome political obstacles with brute force. Grammar fits the role perfectly, delivering as a plausible political leader and a monstrous operator.
A little known political drama from 2006-08 is Brotherhood, starring Jason Clarke and Jason Isaacs, two actors who enjoyed considerable success after the show ended. The show revolves around brothers – a Rhode Island state legislator and his crooked brother. The show was inspired by real-life story of mobster Whitey Bulger and his politician brother in Massachusetts.
For satires, VEEP is probably the funniest political show. I have heard from a clutch of Thick of It/In the Loop devotees – and I am unmoved.
No question that West Wing broke a lot of new ground when it came out, and it’s well done, but annoyingly self-righteous at times. A precursor of West Wing was American President, which pushed its agenda. Michael Douglas fits the role, and I always welcome Michael J.Fox in any role, but, like West Wing, it pushes its agenda to satisfy one half of the audience.
Finally, this one is a departure from my tendency to appreciate accuracy and realistic portrayals of politics and government. 24 – Kiefer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer created a new format for TV. It was basically live-action drama. For sure, it was preposterous at times, but 24 provided some great portraits of political leaders, such as the heroic President David Palmer, a Nixonish, weak and calculating President Charles Logan, an LBJ-ish president played by Powers Boothe, and William Devane as the Secretary of State who could be counted on. At least there was always a higher purpose (“save the world!”) unlike Scandal, 24 makes the list because it employed a lot of Canadian actors.
Speaking of Canada…
This three-part documentary, directed and narrated by Donald Brittain, should be curriculum in Canadian schools. It’s brilliant. It follows the trajectories of Pierre Trudeau and Rene Levesque, side by side, from their childhoods to the climatic moments of the 1980 Quebec referendum and 1982 repatriation of the Constitution .
Rene Levesque’s back story may be a revelation to many young Canadians who were not around for those constitutional wars. Levesque emerged from humble roots to become a renown war-time and post-war journalist. He was able to break down complicated issues and explain them to a broad audience. For a time, he and Trudeau were allies, resisting the repression of the Duplessis regime. Levesque was a prominent cabinet minister in the Jean Lesage Liberal government (‘the Quiet Revolution’) in the early 1960s. Meanwhile, Trudeau was recruited to federal politics in 1965 alongside Jean Marchand and Gerard Pelletier. In the late 1960s, Trudeau’s and Levesque’s paths diverged – Trudeau catapulting to prime minister of the federation; Levesque choosing to leave the Quebec Liberals and form a party dedicated to break up the federation.
These two foes were giants. It makes politics today look trivial by comparison.
Champions is available online through the National Film Board.
Where are the other Canadian offerings? The National Film Board does have a selection of documentaries on leaders like Prime Minister Diefenbaker, Tommy Douglas, and Danny Williams, and trailblazers like Flora MacDonald. I haven’t seen them yet and interested to hear any reviews.
As for Canadian political dramas, there is not a lot to consider. There was a mini series on Premier Duplessis in 1978. A biopic on Pierre Trudeau in 2002. Again, would be good to hear any contributions to a Canadian list. As a British Columbian, it’s pretty thin when it comes to BC political stories in film or video.
There is an inexhaustible supply of political films and documentaries. The list above are some that stuck with me over the years. It would be great to hear your recommendations.
It’s one of those stories you never heard about in school.
In late August 1858, two unlikely fathers of Confederation met on a grassy benchland, south of Camchin (present-day Lytton), to negotiate a peace during the height of the Canyon War, a bloody skirmish between miners (mainly American) and Indigenous people (mainly Nlaka’pamux).
Historian Daniel Marshall, winner of the 2019 Basil Stuart-Stubbs prize for outstanding scholarly book on British Columbia, writes in Claiming the Land: British Columbia and the Making of a New Eldorado how Nlaka’pamux Chief Cexpe’nthlEm (Spintlum) and Henry Snyder, a U.S. militia captain, negotiated a peace that averted major bloodshed and inevitable incursion by U.S. forces across the 49th Parallel to defend American citizens.
Leading up to 1858, Indigenous peoples had traded symbiotically with the Hudson’s Bay Company and had well-established trade routes with Indigenous neighbours to the south. As Marshall’s research shows, it was Indigenous people who were first mining gold. When news of this trade in gold spread to California, it sparked a mass movement of people north. Victoria and ‘New Caledonia’ were transformed overnight. Americans and other foreigners vastly outnumbered the small, resident British population and their arrival changed Indigenous societies forever.
The California gold rush was noted for its extreme violence toward Indigenous peoples. Such violence was well known to the Nlaka’pamux people and other First Nations, and to British officials like Governor James Douglas and the Colonial office. Marshall describes how London directed Douglas to protect the interests of Indigenous peoples and seek to prevent violence from foreign gold seekers. However, Douglas did not have the troops to back up his authority.
When the miners asserted their claims, with little or no regard to Indigenous or British interests, it was only a matter of time before there was conflict. Bloody battles between miners and Indigenous people took place along steep canyon banks. Miners, under attack, threw the bodies of their dead into the Fraser, where they washed up down river at Deadman’s Eddy. Tensions in Yale boiled over and miners’ militias sprung to action.
Marshall describes the climatic moment when two U.S. militias headed north up the Canyon to confront Indigenous opposition. Captain Henry Snyder led the New York Pike Guards and sought a peaceful compromise. Captain Graham of the Whatcom Guards sought to exterminate the Indigenous threat. Snyder and Graham’s militias both marched north on opposite sides of the Fraser. Then on a fateful August evening at Chapman’s Bar, near Spuzzum, Graham and a lieutenant were killed in a nighttime shooting. Were they killed by Indigenous attackers? Was it friendly fire from their own troops? There is insufficient evidence, but, as Marshall discusses, it was a turning point for peace.
Snyder’s ultimate destination was to meet with Chief Spintlum, who had great stature among his people. Preceding this meeting, the threat posed by the gold seekers was being debated by tribal leaders where Spintlum had to contend with pro-war elements in his midst. He pleaded for peace and prevailed. Peace may well have been a pragmatic choice — the salmon were running — a bloody battle would likely mean hardship and starvation. Against this backdrop, Snyder and Spintlum concluded a peace on August 21, 1858, in view of the Mighty Fraser.
Dale Snyder, descendant of Capt. Harry Snyder, and Cecil Salmon, descendant of Chief Spintlum, commemorate the peace that ended the 1858 Fraser Canyon War at Spintlum Memorial, Lytton, BC (photo taken April 2018)
The vivid portrait painted by Marshall of August 1858 raises important historical questions. Had a bloody battle ensued, the Nlaka’pamux and their allies, such as the Okanagan and Secwepemc, could have struck devastating blows on the gold seekers. They had far superior knowledge of the mountainous battleground. What then? It would have likely precipitated a vengeful reaction from the U.S. government and American populace. U.S. troops present in Washington Territory, equipped with howitzers, would have marched across the as yet unmarked border and imposed their will, self-justified in protecting the interests and safety of the tens of thousands of American gold seekers.
Would the American troops have ever left? Marshall suggests not, as the defense of U.S. miners would have been a useful pretext to for troops to pour over a non-existent border; “54° 40′ or fight” was still ringing in the ears of the American public. And what would have become of Confederation if the dream of reaching the Pacific, blocked by . expansionism, no longer existed by 1867? The events in the Canyon War were history-making.
Snyder and Spintlum’s peace held; the Colony of British Columbia was proclaimed that year, while the U.S. soon plunged into Civil War, shifting its political focus away from the Pacific. British Columbia would join Canada on a promise of a new railroad, which would traverse the Fraser Canyon along parts of the Cariboo Wagon Road built for the Gold Rush.
Spintlum’s leadership may have been missing from the history books we read in the past, but it has always been alive among the Nlaka’pamux. In 1927, Nlaka’pamux leaders commemorated his leadership with a memorial where the Fraser meets the Thompson, not far from where the Canyon War ended.
Dedication of Spintlum memorial at Lytton, circa 1927 (Courtesy of Lytton First Nation)
A new generation of textbooks and learning resources for B.C. classrooms also now includes this history. Meticulously documented, Claiming the Land: British Columbian and the Making of a New Eldorado belongs in libraries and schools among the history books that tell our country’s founding story. It helps fill a major gap in our historical narrative — the largely untold Canyon War and the central role of Indigenous peoples — the original discoverers of gold and their important role in B.C. being a part of Canada.
Mike McDonald is Chief Strategy Officer and partner at Kirk & Co. He blogs on B.C. history and current issues at Rosedeer.com.