This memoir offers a courageous and intimate chronicle of life in a residential school. Now a retired fisherman and trapper, the author was one of an estimated 150,000 First Nations, Inuit, and Metis children who were taken from their families and sent to government- funded, church-run schools, where they were subjected to a policy of “aggressive assimilation.” As Augie Merasty recounts, these schools did more than attempt to mold children in the ways of white society. They were taught to be ashamed of their native heritage and, as he experienced, often suffered physical and sexual abuse. But, even as he looks back on this painful part of his childhood, Merasty’s sense of humour and warm voice shine through.
- Over 1/3 of this slim volume consists of modern-day explaining and exploring by David Carpenter, an author Merasty was eventually put in contact with after writing to the “dean of the University of Saskatchewan”, inquiring about a co-writer to help him with his memoir. Carpenter’s writings allow Merasty’s story to become a fuller story by showing the long-term impact of residential schools. The afterword is perhaps the most heartbreaking part of the book, to learn that Merasty did not have the support to pull out of his downward spiral even after he worked so hard on creating his own life and recording his story.
- Merasty narrates in first person. Although Carpenter has tidied up and smoothed out Merasty’s words, his distinct voice remains. I felt as though I could be reading a transcript of a friend telling me his experiences. Merasty originally started writing as part of his testimony for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. His work is more a primary document than a literary memoir. Merasty’s real and raw perspective provides a valuable contribution to body of residential school memoirs.
- Merasty understands that he doesn’t need to write a detailed tell all in order to have his readers understand the horrors experienced by residential school attendees. His memoir never strays toward the graphic. There are times when reading a vivid account of a person’s experiences can be valuable, and all people have a right to share their experiences as they wish. There are times, however, when an account like Merasty’s – that explores and condemns the horrors but doesn’t require you to imagine them too closely – can be beneficial. You don’t necessarily need to have a clear full account to be moved someone’s story. Merasty’s memoir, therefore, is suitable for the faint-hearted or those new to the topic.
- I found it somewhat comforting (not sure if that’s the right word given the subject) to read about the good people in the schools he remembers. In the first chapter, he describes all the people “who showed kindness and genuine care for us kids”, briefly mentioning ominous figures but dismissing them for the time being. Merasty encounters nasty beings, but his first chapter reminds you that there are some decent people in the world.
- The Education of Augie Merasty is a residential school memoir suitable for those new to the topic or those looking to read a first-hand account.
“I have many more stories about all that transpired […]. But I sincerely hope that what I have related here will have some impact, so all that has happened in our school, and other schools in all parts of Canada – the abuse and terror in the lives of Indian children – does not occur ever again.” (86%)