In the words of author Tomson Highway, former Xat’sull Chief Bev Sellars’ new book Price Paid is a timely tome.
“So much of Native Canadian history has been swept under the rug by mainstream historians,” Highway writes of Bev’s book. “Fortunately, books like this, written by Native authors themselves, are finally coming out of the closet, so to speak. And the timing couldn’t be better. Our country so needs these books. Our country so needs these voices.”
Price Paid: The Fight for First Nations Survival hit bookstores at the end of August and is Bev’s second book.
Her first book, They Called Me Number One: Secrets and Survival at an Indian Residential School, was on the BC Bestsellers List for 40 weeks and the winner of the 2014 George Ryga Award for Social Awareness in Literature.
Price Paid was inspired by research Bev did while working with the BC Treaty Commission, she told the Tribune during an interview from her home at Deep Creek, a Secwepemc community north of Williams Lake.
“I was assigned to 12 different tables around the province and it was easy for me to see that a lot of federal and mostly provincial negotiators and some of the Aboriginal people had no idea why they were negotiating treaties.”
After hearing her concerns about that lack of knowledge Steven Point, who was chief commissioner of the BC Treaty Commission at the time, encouraged her to put together an information presentation.
Bev did and delivered it more than 100 times around the province to a whole diverse group of people.
“I went to school districts, government departments, Aboriginal groups, people who were interested in it,” she said.
When Talonbooks asked her if she could write a second book, building on the success of her first, she remembered that former B.C. premier Mike Harcourt had wanted her to turn her treaty presentation into a book.
“At that time Mike wanted to introduce me to his publisher, but then he left [politics] shortly after that and I never followed up with him,” Sellars said.
They Called Me Number One was Talonbooks first-ever best-seller, said Spencer Williams, who works for his parents Kevin and Vicki Williams, owners of the company.
Its original printing was for 1,000 copies and but to date 10,000 copies of the book have been printed.
“It is still going strong and Price Paid has caused They Called Me Number One to pick up speed again,” Spencer added.
Describing Bev as the “world’s best speaker,” Spencer said that ability is the key to her success.
“When she does readings, due to the subject matter of her books, she gets asked really tough questions, but knocks them out of the park every time. I am so impressed how she can answer someone on the spot in full detail, in basically an essay format.”
Bev said she is not a writer by choice, but out of necessity.
“I didn’t think before that my English was good enough to write professionally, but I did not know about editors. My English has improved through the writing process.”
As she goes on the road with her book, she’s finding people are “shocked” to learn the history of Aboriginal people and the history of Canada.
An example is the pass system that was introduced after the North-West Resistance in 1885.
While doing some research at the Provincial Archives in Victoria, Bev found an item from a newspaper article dated November 1937 that provides an actual account of it still being intact at the time.
“Frank Bones, Indian, was convicted of trespassing on the Canoe Creek reserve on November 1. Paid his $10, plus costs fine,” the article noted.
When Bev was giving a presentation at Canoe Creek she learned from an elder that Frank was from the Clinton Indian Band and had been on his way to Canoe Creek to pick up his bride before their wedding when the incident occurred.
“While there, the Indian agent caught him and charged him with trespassing on a reserve that was not his own,” Bev wrote in the book. “Frank began his married life with a hefty fine of $10 dollars at a time when people worked for 50 cents a day.”
Bev said she hopes to be able to present her new book in the Cariboo soon.