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Bev Sellars receives honorary doctorate from Thompson Rivers University

Sellars is an Indigenous lawyer, award-winning author, activist and former Xatśūll Chief

Bev Sellars of the Xatśūll First Nation received an honorary doctorate from Thompson Rivers University (TRU) on June 9, 2023, the highest form of recognition TRU gives. Honorary doctorates are given to individuals who have demonstrated leadership and excellence in their fields.

Now also a Doctor of Letters, Sellars is an Indigenous lawyer and author of the books They Called Me Number One: Secrets and Survival at an Indian Residential School (2012) and Price Paid: The Fight for First Nations Survival (2016). The activist is a former Xatśūll Kukpi7 (Chief) and founded the Moccasin Footprint Society with her daughter Jacinda Mack.

Sellars accepted her doctorate during the TRU ceremony, saying it was great hearing Secwépemctsín at the convocation and shared the word tsecwínucw-k, which means “you survived the night.” She thanked TRU and congratulated the other graduates.

“Education was something I always craved,” Sellars said in her speech. “It came to me in many forms and in many ways.”

Mack confirmed this, telling the Tribune that her mother has always been a powerful role model and much of their family time was spent around campuses. The mother and daughter even attended the University of Victoria at the same time, sharing a class together during their undergraduate degrees.

Georgina Martin, a Secwépemc professor at Vancouver Island University who attended St. Joseph’s Mission with Sellars (the residential school outside of Williams Lake that operated from 1891 until 1981), told the Tribune that Sellars has spent her life doing the groundwork of supporting and improving the conditions of Indigenous people.

“It’s not only the mind work that’s involved. We put a lot of emotional capital into these issues. They’re from our lived experiences. We’ve lived through these atrocities in our communities.” said Martin.

When Sellars spoke with the Tribune on Jan. 16, 2024, she was on her way to a meeting with some of the Indigenous Guardians of the Indigenous Leadership Initiative. A busy woman, she’s also working on a film about the relationship between Indigenous people and the Fraser River salmon, set to come out in February or March; she’s working with the University of Victoria and Coquitlam MLA Fin Donnelly trying to have the 2010 Save the Fraser River Declaration revised; and she’s running the Moccasin Footprint Society, rooted in Indigenous grassroots work.

Another project she is working on is a cultural and educational centre at Quesnel Lake, re-establishing her people’s presence on the land they were forcibly removed from. She’s received funding for a business plan for the centre and hopes to have a camp with accommodations set up.

“The important thing is that [the centre] will have a few spots open for the non-Indigenous because the elders have said that the knowledge we have can’t stay in our little circle and has to spread out.”

Mack described her mom as a visionary and a doer, and despite the criticism and threats her mom receives for speaking the truth, she continues to be strong.

“She exemplifies the kind of leadership we need to have, with critical thinking and being able to reject colonial institutions that aren’t working or are unfair for [Indigenous] people,” said Mack. “She’s a real leader that way, in speaking truth to power.”

Sellars said she’s received criticism from the mining and forestry industry, including those afraid of losing their jobs. She also received hate mail in the early 90s when she began talking about the residential schools.

Kukpi7 Rhonda Phillips of the Xatśūll First Nation said Sellars is a woman who says what she means and does what she says.

“Bev has continuously educated people on Indigenous rights and issues,” said Phillips, “We are proud to call Bev Sellars a member of the Xatśūll First Nation and we raise our hands up for all that she is to her family, her community, her nation and Mother Earth. She is a remarkable woman who is always on the go, and we can’t wait to see what she does next.”

Of course, the balance of juggling so many projects is hard, Sellars explained, but as an Indigenous person, she’ll never be able to retire because there’s so much work to be done, especially when it comes to the environment.

“Convenience is going to be our downfall. We buy things without thinking about where they’re coming from,” said Sellars. “People talk about being woke to racism. People need to be woke to the environment and what we’re doing to it.

“The common denominator for all of us is our children and grandchildren. We should all be fighting for a healthy future for them.”

READ MORE: Sellars explores the fight for First Nations survival

READ MORE: First Nations Women Advocating Responsible Mining tour kicks off in Williams Lake

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Kim Kimberlin, Local Journalism Initiative

About the Author: Kim Kimberlin, Local Journalism Initiative

I joined Black Press Media in 2022, and have a passion for covering topics on women’s rights, 2SLGBTQIA+ and racial issues, mental health and the arts.
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