Chief Bev Sellars shares her story of residential school

On Sept. 16, Chief Bev Sellars of Soda Creek First Nation will perform a reading from her book They Called Me Number One: Secrets and Survival at an Indian Residential School in the First Peoples House on campus. Sellars will share details from her memoir, which illustrates three generations of women, including experiences from her own life, as well as those of her mother and grandmother.

“I am going to focus on the destructive ‘programming’ we received as children and how it has affected our adult lives,” said Sellars in an email interview. Chief Bev Sellars’s memoir sheds light on the Canadian residential schooling system and recognizes the First Nations people who are continuing to heal following their traumatic childhoods.

Sellars spent five years at St. Joseph’s Mission in Williams Lake, B.C., from 1962 to 1967. The church-run residential school implemented harsh discipline, religious conditioning and involuntary separation from family and cultural practice. Laws enforced children’s attendance, so residential schools were unavoidable for many Aboriginal youth. Forcibly separated from their families and cultures, children lost ties to their language and heritage.

“The schools robbed us of our traditional ways of life, robbed us of the closeness that families should have, robbed us of the securities a child should have, robbed us of knowing our family members and robbed us of much of our adult lives trying to get over the destructive teachings of the schools,” says Sellars.

In recent decades, stories of higher death tolls than originally reported have gone public. According to Aboriginal Peoples in Canada by James Frideres and René Gadacz, “among First Nations people aged 10 to 44, suicide and self-inflicted injury is the number-one cause of death, responsible for almost 40 per cent of mortalities.” Sellars says, “I wrote the story because I wanted the younger Aboriginal generation to know why there was so much dysfunction in our communities. I wanted my grandchildren and nieces and nephews to know why.” Chief Sellars’s memoir illustrates the lasting impacts that Canadian residential schools have left on First Nations peoples. Shining a light on communities of people that are sometimes deeply pained and greatly misunderstood, Sellars hopes her memoir will provide insight into the coping, healing and rebuilding of Canada’s First Peoples.

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