Xat'sull Chief Bev Sellars spent her childhood in a church-run residential school, forcibly separated from her family and culture. In addition, beginning at the age of five, Sellars was isolated for two years at Coqualeetza Indian Tubercolosis Hospital in Sardis, British Columbia, nearly six hours' drive from home. The trauma of these experiences has reverberated throughout her life.
Sellars tells of three generations of women who attended the St. Joseph's Mission school at Williams Lake, BC, interweaving the 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 thousands of 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 Sellar'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, Stellars breaks her silence about the institution's lasting effects, and eloquently articulates her own path to healing.
Awards and Critical Reviews
Winner of the 2014 George Ryga Award for Social Awareness in Literature
Shortlisted for the 2014 Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize
BC Bestseller's list
"Deeply personal, sorrowful, and ultimately triumphal, They Called Me Number One is an important addition to the literature on residential schools, and Canada's reckoning with its colonial past" - The Winnipeg Free Press
"Chief Stellars bravely adds her voice to the burgeoning chorus of stories about residential schools... That she has been able to carefully articulate such a deeply personal and painful story is a testament to her courage and determination." - Phil Fontaine, former National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations
"An important contribution to the collective voice now addressing the subject of the residential schools, written by one who's been there. An essential part of the healing process." - Tomson Highway
About the Author
Bev Sellars is the chief of the Xat'Sull (Soda Creek) First Nation in Williams Lake, BC. 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 mineral exploitation in her region. She holds a degree in history from the University of Victoria, and a law degree from the University of British Columbia, and served as adviser for the BC Treaty Commission.