Book Review: They Called Me Number One

…Secrets and Survival at an Indian Residential School. A memoir by Chief Bev Sellars

Canada, like every country on earth, has its share of dirty secrets and there’s no dirtier secret than its maltreatment of First Nations peoples for several hundred years. Just like the family with the proverbial elephant in the room, without an understanding of historical, colonialist oppression, our nation will remain dysfunctional and our maturity will be blocked. It’s shameful that even today, in 2015, so many Canadians have a racist view of Aboriginals. This shouldn’t be a surprise, I suppose, given that we still live in a world dominated by white guys doing it by themselves. Nevertheless, there’s a growing sense that it’s time to cease our collective ignorance and Bev Sellar’s extraordinary memoir, They Called Me Number One, would be an effective way to begin that process.

The name “Indian residential schools” is a misnomer if ever there was one—they weren’t schools, they were prisons for children who were forcibly taken from their families and communities then enslaved and abused. The result has been a multi-generation cultural genocide. One needs to link that truth to a matrix of other truths, not the least of which is that the systems of thought which produced such brutality also produced unfettered capitalism which has degraded the planet’s ecosystems to the point of collapse.
Will we move out of this dark era before it’s too late? The optimistic folks from Common Dreams believe so, and some prominent Canadians are bringing the Leap Manifesto to the nation just in advance of this fall’s federal election, hoping that the public consciousness is ready to vote for structural change. Our country has come full circle and not only is it time for every Canadian to read They Called Me Number One, but it’s also time to adopt the First Nations wisdom our forefathers tried so hard to silence.

Bev Sellars:
“I have been told many times that I need to “forgive” in order to move on with my life. I say bull to that. It is not up to me to forgive. Forgiveness is an easy out of those who have inflicted all the pain and suffering on Aboriginal people. Forgiveness and reconciliation too easily absolve us of our responsibility to find solutions to conflicts. Forgiveness allows the perpetrators to get away not being accountable for their actions. Is this like the Catholic confessional, say a few prayers, and get forgiveness in the eyes of God? Is this why the abuses continued? Is that how the abusers in the schools lived with themselves? There can be no forgiveness for evil done in the guise of religion and there can be no forgiveness for racism. The churches and governments have reduced once-independent Aboriginal nations to beggars in our own lands.”

Here’s a song from the amazing Buffy Sainte-Marie who at age 74 is still belting out a message and winning awards for doing so: