“We are not a monolith, every single one of us has a very different story from one another, our communities are different, our languages are different.”

Kelly Boutsalis

In the heart of Canada lies a deep history of Indigenous People who shaped the customs of this nation. 

We had the pleasure of meeting Kelly Boutsalis and learn about her experience.

Kelly is a film programmer at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and a freelance writer. Kelly’s background and experience have left an unforgettable mark on her writing style, which diverges from the mainstream space and falls into telling positive Indigenous stories. Her work is featured in The New York Times, NOW Magazine, Toronto Star, ELLE Canada and much more.

Kelly’s first steps in the journalism industry

Boutsalis, originally from the Six Nations of the Grand River, moved to London to attend Western University. Her passion for writing led her to Humber’s post-grad journalism program, opening doors to the magazine world.

Boutsalis tells me that her writing style was shaped by her freelancing experience. She was on a mission to craft stories that remained underrepresented in the mainstream space of Indigenous stories. 

Her aim wasn’t merely to dive into the stories of the grim stats surrounding the Residential School system. Instead, her ambition was to tell stories that could reshape perceptions and create a more humane image of Indigenous People.

Boutsalis pointed out that there aren’t many Indigenous journalists out there, but there’re some notable ones engaged in vital work. She explains to me that, for the most part, these journalists adopt a hard news approach. They dive into their communities to report on really heavy topics – an essential task, she emphasizes. 

Yet, Boutsalis is one of the few who focuses on entertainment within the Indigenous context. She combines her passion for TV and film with her background to find new ways to tell Indigenous stories.

Kelly Boutsalis posing for picture.
Photo by Red Works Photography.

Telling Indigenous stories

During Boutsalis’ initial days as an Indigenous writer, she recalls a huge void of Indigenous storytelling, a gap that still persists today. She points out that one of her primary challenges during that period was not having guidance or support when it came to crafting Indigenous stories.

She reflects on her attempts of telling stories rooted in her background, with limited resources and assistance.

“I know it’s something that they’ve been working on, I’ve taken part in a couple of panels about how to increase diversity. I have a feeling that things have changed for the better.”

Boutsalis shared a heartwarming story when discussing her Indigenous journalist role models, which include Connie Walker, Brandi Morin and Angela Sterritt.

When meeting with Walker for the first time, she introduced herself as an Indigenous journalist and mentioned the work she was doing. To her surprise, Walker said that she knew who Boutsalis was. It was a surreal moment for her.

“It was so crazy. For a lot of the writing work, you’re on your computer, and I kind of have a mental block about the people who are reading. But I have heard they all know who I am. It feels pretty wild,” Boutsalis says.

Photo by Red Works Photography.

How to get involved with the Indigenous People’s history

At the end of our conversation, Boutsalis touched base on how non-Indigenous people should learn about the Indigenous communities and support them.

She highlights the importance supporting all Indigenous artists and creators, encouraging people to actively engage with their art.

There are tons of opportunities for involvement, from universities hosting Pow Wows to the attending Native Canadian Centre of Toronto. The possibilities for engagement are endless.

“We’re kind of everywhere, we’re still here. There’re places to go, things to read and movies to watch,” Boutsalis says.

Advice to Indigenous students

And you, young Indigenous students navigating your identity today, Boutsalis has an important message for you.

She understands the valid fear of being the first Indigenous person in a particular role, but she points out that it is extremely rewarding once you get there.

“I would tell them they’re 100 per cent necessary. There aren’t enough of us at certain levels of all of these fields, and their voice is needed, their point of view is needed, their history is needed.”

Boutsalis wraps up by saying that Indigenous People are not a monolith. Every single one of them has a very different story from one another, their communities are different, their languages are unique and their background are diverse – each of them makes an impact on what they are doing.

She knows some people may be scared about engaging with Indigenous stories, but she wants to encourage everyone who wants to learn more to push past any fears.

There’s a huge knowledge and experiences to discover, and she hopes that people will get past their hesitations. These hesitations can stop them from meaningful relationships, enjoying a great movie or even telling a great story.

To learn more about Kelly and the work she does, be sure to follow her on X, formerly known as Twitter, and keep up to date on her website.

Walking for Reconciliation 2023 at Humber College Lakeshore campus.
Photo by IGNITE

On Sept. 30, we mark the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. We honour the survivors of Residential Schools and the children who never returned home. It is also the day to raise awareness of the grievous legacy left by the Residential School system.

IGNITE is committed to fostering awareness of this country’s history within our Humber College and the University of Guelph-Humber community.

If you are an Indigenous student at Humber College or the University of Guelph-Humber, apply for the IGNITE Indigenous Scholarship. Applications are open from Nov. 1 to Nov. 30.

Header photo courtesy of Toronto Film Critics Association.

Want to explore Indigenous markings around our campuses? Here is where to find them.

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