A newly released University of Regina Press book tells the heartbreaking tale of a residential school survivor from northern Saskatchewan.
The Education of Augie Merasty: A Residential School Memoir is the personal story of Joseph Auguste Merasty who spent time in residential school from 1935-1944.
The story details Merasty’s shocking tale of his experiences in residential school as well as the difficulties he faced in the years that followed.
The book is co-written by David Carpenter.
Merasty first contacted Carpenter in 2001 when he sent a letter to the University of Saskatchewan requesting help co-writing his memoir.
He was in his 70’s at that time and working as a trapper in Birch Portage, a small reserve just south of Creighton.
“I started receiving letters and talking on the phone with Augie,” Carpenter recounts. “What I needed to convince him to do was to write the story down himself, so he started sending me these letters bulging with stories from his youth.”
Carpenter says he would talk with Merasty about the letters he sent to make sure he understood the context of each story.
The correspondence continued for around five years until 2006/2007 when Carpenter lost contact with Merasty and his calls and letters went unanswered.
“Then I thought he must have died because he wasn’t answering me,” he says. “I decided to continue to write the story and tried to find where Augie might be.”
Carpenter says he heard conflicting reports of where Merasty could be but everyone he talked to believed he was still alive.
The co-writer eventually located Merasty last summer who by this time was living on the streets in Prince Albert.
“Finally I found him in detox and I was able to sit down with him face to face and was able to finish the book.”
In describing what he felt, Carpenter says he discovered two sides to the trapper.
“One version of Augie was the man living on the street, a severe alcoholic and a poor communicator. But the other Augie I got to know throughout these years was an intelligent and creative guy, an artist and a writer and a man with incredible courage.”
The closing line of the book has Carpenter calling Merasty a hero for his willingness to share his story.
“We are used to thinking about football players and hockey players as heroes, but they’re not heroes they’re celebrities. I think Augie was a hero and an extraordinarily courageous man to do what he did.”
Over the past several years, Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission has been collecting testimonies from residential school survivors like Merasty.
The goal is to produce a historical record on residential schools and to recommend next steps to the federal government.
Carpenter hopes Merasty’s story can continue to help bring reconciliation to this dark chapter of Canadian history.
“I don’t think reconciliation can take place unless people begin to discuss these stories. A lot of old and sad stories need to be brought to the surface, so we don’t live with this comfortable illusion about what happened to Native people at these schools.”
The Education of Augie Merasty: A Residential School Memoir was released on Monday.
Joseph Auguste Merasty currently lives in Prince Albert.
He is 83 years old.