They Called Me Number One: Secrets and Survival at an Indian Residential School

Front Cover
Talonbooks, 2013 - Biography & Autobiography - 227 pages

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.


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About the author (2013)

Bev Sellars is a former Chief and Councillor of the Xat'sull (Soda Creek) First Nation in Williams Lake, British Columbia. First elected chief of Xat'sull in 1987, a position she held from 1987-1993 and then from 2009-2015. She also worked as a community advisor for the BC Treaty Commission. Ms. Sellars served as the representative for the Secwepemc communities on the Cariboo Chilcotin Justice Inquiry in the early 1990s. Ms. Sellars has spoken out on racism and residential schools and on the environmental and social threats of mineral resources exploitation in her region.

Ms. Sellars is the author of They Called Me Number One, a memoir of her childhood experience in the Indian residential school system and its effects on three generations of women in her family, published in 2013 by Talon Books. The book won the 2014 George Ryga Award for Social Awareness, was shortlisted for the 2014 Hubert Evans Non-Fiction, and was a finalist for the 2014 Burt Award for First Nations, Métis and Inuit Literature. Her book, Price Paid: The Fight for First Nations Survival, published in 2016 by Talon Books, looks at the history of Indigenous rights in Canada from an Indigenous perspective. Sellars has a degree in history from the University of Victoria and a law degree from the University of British Columbia. She is currently Chair of First Nations Women Advocating Responsible Mining (FNWARM) and serves as a Senior Advisor to the Indigenous Leadership Initiative (www.ilinationhood.ca).

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