Book Review: They Called Me Number One

theycalledmenumberoneRead for: Educational enjoyment

Rating: 3.5/5

Ah, yes. The history of Canada the Canadian Government doesn’t want to talk about. In high school we were taught nothing of the colonial history of Canada, despite the fact that for several years (if memory serves, from at least grade 8 to grade 11) our social studies classes were 100% about Canadian history and contained no information about the other parts of the world. We learned all about John A. MacDonald – Canada’s first Prime Minister, the Hudson’s Bay Company, and a handful of other old white men that I have totally forgotten about. But the topic of residential schools (and North American indigenous/First Nations people in general) was completely danced around. I didn’t even know what a residential school was until a few years ago when I began work in the DTES, and that is pretty shocking considering I was born and raised in the very same province that held so many of these institutions. For those of you not in the know, residential schools were funded by the Canadian Government and administered by Christian Churches, and their function was to force “the Indian out of the Indian.” The Canadian Government removed all First Nations children from their homes (they jailed the families that refused to comply and hand over their children) and required them to live in these facilities run by the church in an effort to deprive them of their ancestral languages and separate them from their culture. In many documented cases children that attended these schools were abused physically, mentally and sexually, as well as sometimes being subject to forced sterilization. Of an estimated 150,000 children that passed through the residential school system, 4000 of them DIED. I don’t think I need to explain that this is absolutely abhorrent (I don’t even have the words), and that doesn’t even include the number of First Nations people who committed suicide later in life, unable to live with the pain they experienced. This also didn’t even happen that long ago; the last federally operated residential school didn’t close until 1996. 1996!! This whole system completely traumatized an entire generation (or more) of First Nations people, and it is certainly a big, huge, horrible black mark on the history of Canada.

This book is written by Bev Sellars, a survivor of the residential school system, and tells the story of her youth at home as well as her experiences in residential school. She also writes of her success following her traumatic time in school which is perhaps the most important part of her story. While the writing itself could have been stronger, what the reader takes away from this book is a wider knowledge of the pain inflicted on thousands of people by the Canadian Government and the Church, and the history of Canada that every Canadian should be familiar with. They NEED to include this in the curriculum for students in the Canadian public school system. Denying that it happened does not make it go away. For more information on the history of Native/Caucasian relations in Canada and the USA please please read Thomas King’s The Inconvenient Indian. It is FABULOUS.

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