We are honoured to host author and UVic Alumni Chief Bev Sellars, whose memoir, They Called Me Number One: Secrets and Survival at an Indian Residential School, has been listed on BC's Bestseller List for over 16 weeks. Bev will read from her memoir and talk about her experiences at a Williams Lake residential school.
This is Bev's first stop on her West Coast tour; next she will present her memoir to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as part of the TRC National Event in Vancouver from September 18-21st.
Bev Sellars is chief of the Xat’sull (Soda Creek) First Nation in Williams Lake, British Columbia. She has earned a degree in history from the University of Victoria and a law degree from the University of British Columbia, and she served as adviser for the B.C. Treaty Commission. She was ﬁrst elected chief in 1987 and has spoken out on behalf of her community on racism and residential schools and on the environmental and social threats of mineralresource exploitation in her region.
Xat’sull Chief Bev Sellars spent her childhood in a church-run residential school whose aim it was to “civilize” Native children through Christian teachings, forced separation from family and culture, and discipline. In addition, beginning at the age of ﬁve, Sellars was isolated for two years at Coqualeetza Indian Turberculosis Hospital in Sardis, British Columbia, nearly six hours’ drive from home. The trauma of these experiences has reverberated throughout her life.
The ﬁrst full-length memoir to be published out of St. Joseph’s Mission at Williams Lake, BC, Sellars tells of three generations of women who attended the school, interweaving the personal histories of her grandmother and her mother with her own. She tells of hunger, forced labour, and physical beatings, often with a leather strap, and also of the demand for conformity in a culturally alien institution where children were conﬁned and denigrated for failure to be White and Roman Catholic.
Like Native children forced by law to attend schools across Canada and the United States, Sellars and other students of St. Joseph’s Mission were allowed home only for two months in the summer and for two weeks at Christmas. The rest of the year they lived, worked, and studied at the school. St. Joseph’s mission is the site of the controversial and well-publicized sex-related oﬀences of Bishop Hubert O’Connor, which took place during Sellars’s student days, between 1962 and 1967, when O’Connor was the school principal. After the school’s closure, those who had been forced to attend came from surrounding reserves and smashed windows, tore doors and cabinets from the wall, and broke anything that could be broken. Overnight their anger turned a site of shameful memory into a pile of rubble.
In this frank and poignant memoir, Sellars breaks her silence about the institution’s lasting eﬀects, and eloquently articulates her own path to healing.