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They Called Me Number One
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Tuesday December 11, 2012 in Books

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

By Bev Sellars

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.

ISBN 13: 9780889227415 | ISBN 10: 0889227411
5.5 W x 8.5 H inches | 256 pages
19.95 CAN / 19.95 US
Rights: World
Backlist | Non-Fiction | Bisac: BIO026000
Paperback Edition


“Sellars (who is now chief of Xat’sull First Nation in BC’s Caribou region) tells a story of programming and deprogramming, of being engrained with the powerful myth of white superiority at home and school, and of the years-long process of unspooling that myth through self-help books, university education, and political activism. … While Sellars’s memoir celebrates the triumph of returning from the brink, it is also a stark condemnation of historical and extant paternalistic policies and the personal tragedies these policies continue to breed.”
Canadian Literature

“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.”
– Winnipeg Free Press

“Candidly and with brilliant clarity, Bev Sellars draws us deeply into her life while pointing a penetrating light into the darkest shadows of Canada’s racist and genocidal … residential schools. In her telling, survivors and the families of those who did not make it will feel their own stories.”
– Grand Chief Edward John, UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

“Chief Sellars 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.”
– Chief 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. May it continue …”
– Tomson Highway


Named one of 15 memoirs by Indigenous writers you need to read (CBC Books, 2017)

First Nation Communities READ – Periodical Marketers of Canada Aboriginal Literature award (2017–2018), Finalist

Burt Award for First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Literature (2014), 3rd Prize

Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize (B.C. Book Prizes, 2014), Finalist

George Ryga Award for Social Awareness in Literature (2014), Winner

44 weeks on the B.C. Bestsellers list in 2013 & 2014!

About the Contributors

Bev Sellars

Bev Sellars was chief of the Xat’sull (Soda Creek) First Nation in Williams Lake, British Columbia, for more than 20 years, and she now serves as a member of its Council. Sellars 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 resource exploitation in her region.

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Bev Sellars

They Called Me Number One cover
They Called Me Number One

Bev Sellars

Copyright Talonbooks 1963-2018



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