Magdalena Kelly

Magdalena Kelly has lived a life full of adventures. Kelly lives in Deroche B.C., on Leq’a:mel First Nation, and works for TakingITGlobal on the Connected North program.

When she was younger, Kelly says she was a bit of a rebel and when she went to school in Vancouver, she was one of two First Nations students.

She dropped out of high school, and says part of the reason why was because she was “sort of heading in an activist mindset.”

“It was almost like we weren’t being taught about Indigenous history, but knew something was up. Because they kept looking at us as we were token natives and they’d be like, ‘Hey, you guys should know you’re native,’” said Kelly.

“Meanwhile, we’re hearing all our stories and the residential school was just starting to come into our lives.”

Her father wanted to keep her away from that because of trauma, but when she started heading out in the world Kelly would get the question ‘what does it mean to you to be native?’ and she would think it’s a weird question and wouldn’t know how to answer.

“That sort of started a soul … It was like a tiny little spark that’s charted this like soul searching. But my parents also went through a divorce when I was five and I never really dealt with those issues growing up,” said Kelly.

So when she was 14, she left home and says she started hanging around the streets of Vancouver. She also says during this time, she was the target to a lot of bullying and had to carry around ‘little weapons’ to defend herself in case she was jumped, and she was.

Kelly says her boyfriend at the time rescued her, and says there was a time where there were a group of people standing in front of her that wanted to hurt her but her boyfriend helped stop it from happening again.

She eventually moved in with him and that got her off the streets, which lead her to her first job of working at Subway and eventually at a café downtown Vancouver serving coffee.

One day, Kelly went to get a haircut and noticed her stylist was “really, really cool” and asked her how she got into styling hair. From there, Kelly found out her band would help support her getting into hair school and she was on her new venture.

“Yeah, I definitely have burnt people’s hair off. I’ve cut people’s hair way too short. And I’ve had women cry in my chair. That’s how you learn how to do it,” said Kelly.

“So a lot of those things that happen make you really humble.”

After doing hair for a few years, her boss sent her to New York to train at a salon called Bumble and Bumble for five days where she had the most “magical experience.”

So Kelly decided she had nothing to hold her back in Vancouver, so she did paperwork to live in the U.S. and moved into “someone’s closet” in Vancouver to save up to move to New York.

She gave all of her stuff away and went to the city with just a bag of clothes.

“I didn’t really know anybody there. I was just following my heart. My heart was telling me to go and my gut and I just went and it was scary, but it was also exhilarating because it was like, ‘This is a new stage of my life,’” said Kelly.

For 10 years Kelly lived in New York, working in both restaurants and as a hair stylist. She says she also worked at a men’s club cutting the hair of Wall Street men and says it was a “cool experience.”

Kelly did a lot of different things while living in New York, such as deejaying, working as a dancer, and working as a bartender.

She ended up getting pregnant in New York and decided it would be better to have the child back in Canada. So, she packed up her stuff and moved back to Vancouver.

“The way that I moved to New York, it was like, that was my new excitement. And now having a child would be my next thing. And this is 10 years later.”

After having her daughter, she started doing hair again but decided she wanted to try to get a day job and took a course for Indigenous people who want to be entrepreneurs.

Through that program she met one of her mentors, who eventually called her and asked her if she wanted to work at the national Aboriginal Energy Empower Association on a desk job.

Kelly said yes and went on to work as an event planner and eventually became an event manager. She worked there for two years until she was laid off.

While laid off, she knew her uncle worked in a corporate company and called him asking if he knew of any positions available she could do. He said yes, and sent her the description for the Connected North program.

Kelly has lived an eventful life, and for students thinking of leaving their community she says it’s the best thing that has happened to her, and she even helped her brother get out of the community to get into a new environment.

“Once you step out of your own environment and you’re in a new environment and you’re exploring, you really get a chance to know yourself because that’s all you have,” said Kelly.

“How they say, ‘Distance makes the heart grow fonder,’ it’s true because you really appreciate what you have and where you’re from. So, go out there, explore, but never, ever forget where you’re from and go back and hug your mom and hug your family and call them and share your experiences with them because that’s where the beauty is.”

Special thanks to Jasmine Kabatay for authoring this blog post.

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Key Parts

  • Career
  • Identity
    First Nations
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  • Province/Territory
    British Columbia
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