Like thousands of Aboriginal children in the United States, Canada, and elsewhere in the colonized world, Xatsu'll chief Bev Sellars spent part of her childhood as a student in a church-run residential school. These institutions endeavored to "civilize" Native children through Christian teachings; forced separation from family, language, and culture; and strict discipline. Perhaps the most symbolically potent strategy used to alienate residential school children was addressing them by assigned numbers only - not by the names with which they knew and understood themselves.
In this frank and poignant memoir of her years at St. Joseph's Mission, Sellars breaks her silence about the residential school's lasting effects on her and her family - from substance abuse to suicide attempts - and eloquently articulates her own path to healing. They Called Me Number One comes at a time of recognition - by governments and society at large - that only through knowing the truth about these past injustices can we begin to redress them.
Bev Sellars is chief of the Xatsu'll (Soda Creek) First Nation in Williams Lake, British Columbia. She holds a degree in history from the University of Victoria and a law degree from the University of British Columbia. She has served as an advisor to the British Columbia Treaty Commission.
"Few people know anything about the collaboration of church and state to destroy races of people and cultures, genocide in the name of god."
Bev Sellars' often brutal testimony, gives insight into the cycle of poverty of indigenous peoples in Canada and (as she says) the United states, and even into Australia. She shows how dehumanization and cultural obliteration are passed down through generations.
She asks, "Is it possible to make others feel what I once felt?" The answer is yes. Her grandmotherly storyteller voice made me feel like I was hearing personal family history that I needed for my own survival.
Kindnesses shine like stars, but the bleakness is shameful and will be among the list of books that bolster my fight against systematic oppression.
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