Bev Sellars, Chief of the Xat'sull First Nation in Williams Lake, British Columbia, published They Called Me Number One in 2013. This book is a memoir of her childhood experience in the Indian residential school system. The residential school claimed that its purpose was to civilize Native children through forced separation from family and culture, discipline, and Christian teachings. Students who went to St.Joseph's Mission were allowed to go home only two months during summer and two weeks during Christmas. Throughout the books Sellars talks about the abundant occurrences of severe mental, physical and emotional abuse from school's staff. She tells how traumatizing it has been and how it resulted in nightmares, migraine headaches, alcoholism, anxiety, and a sense of inferiority in addition to her numerous attempts of suicide. Despite abuse, dysfunction and racism, They Called Me Number One is also a story of healing and hope. Indeed, Sellars has abandoned an abusive relationship, she has two degrees, and she is now a community leader.
Nevertheless, this book still testifies to the
damage of racial discrimination against the Native children. The school was
against their culture and tried to brainwash them until they lost their identity.
They were taught that they were not as intelligent as the white people and Sellars
I still thought, because I was Indian, I was not as smart as
White people. (128) They also had to forget their Native language.
Furthermore, they not only had to break with their language, but also with their
family and their indigenous knowledge. In fact, they would not be punished and
abused at school so much if they refrained from speaking their language. Since
they were separated from their family, it was difficult for them to keep oral
traditions. The school controlled Native children by fear. As soon as Sellars
spoke her mind or questioned anything it would get her into trouble.
the number of beatings I received from the strap as a child, I am surprised at how
programmed I still am to endure pain. (87) She was not supposed to contradict,
correct, or stand up to a white person. Indeed, students who disobeyed white
authority figures at school received severe and cruel beatings. As the time went
by, they developed a passive attitude toward the school's white authority figure.
As usual, I didn't ask any question; I just did as I was told. (66)
Whenever they did something wrong, they excused themselves for being Indians. It
was their only way to feel
safe in a not-so-safe place.
They had to not only forget their own culture but
also to conform to the white culture. They were confined and denigrated for
failure to be White and Catholic. Every Sunday, they had to go to church and the
mass was recited entirely in Latin. Students had lessons every day to practise how
to respond to the priest during mass. They had to practice until they developed
the right pronunciation of the Latin, but they had no idea what they were talking
about since the meaning was not translated into English for them.
We were, as
usual, just little robots programmed to do everything on cue. We were not at
residential school to get a well-rounded education. On Christmas, they had to
make a show in front of white people, a concert to which their Aboriginal parents
were not invited. Moreover, when they were picked for their first communion, they
had to choose their
To conclude They Called Me Number One shows the process of colonization at work in residential school. Native children went through traumatizing events that still reflect on their lives as adults. Some of them do not know how to interact in the community and they have continuing feelings of inferiority.
Sellars, Bev. They Called Me Number One. Vancouver : Talonbooks. 2013