Thursday, June 6, 2013 |
In her new book, They Called Me Number One, Bev Sellars, Chief of the Soda Creek Nation in northern British Columbia, describes the great cruelty directed at the students who spent ten months a year at St. Joseph's Mission Residential School. On June 19, 1991, survivors of the church-run, government-funded residential school system gathered at a Vancouver conference to acknowledge and discuss what happened to them as children and, by all accounts, the testimony by Sellars and others, alleging cruel strappings and sexual abuse, was heartbreaking.
Twenty two years later, Sellars' memoir reveals the impact of this school system on generations, including herself, her mother and grandmother, all of whom attended St. Joseph's, which operated on Williams Lake First Nation lands from 1891 to 1981.
"I wrote it mostly for the younger generation," Sellars told Laura Lynch on a recent episode of the Sunday Edition. "Our family members who hadn't gone to the school and who didn't understand why their older relatives had so many social problems. I wanted to write something so the younger generation would understand. That was the main purpose for putting my notes together."
When Sellars' husband Bill Wilson read her notes, he was stunned. Even though three generations of Sellars women went to this school, they never spoke of their experiences with anyone.
"My grandmother, she would tell us every year before we went back, she would say, 'I sure hate to send you kids to the school but if I don't send you back, they'll put me in jail,'" Sellars recalled. "That wasn't an empty threat; there were parents in our area who had gone to jail for not releasing their kids."
Sellars said that the pain was implicitly understood within her family but when she shared it with shocked outsiders, she was overcome with emotion and realized her story could help others.
"Too many non-Aboriginal people are too quick to condemn Aboriginal people for their social problems," Sellars said. "I hope the book helps them understand [what caused] the social problems in our community."