Residential school survivor hopes his story compels others to share
- Andréa Ledding | February 11, 2015
The residential school policies of the Government of Canada not only decimated the culture of First Nation people, they also left many with poor physical and mental health. As the community recovers from the trauma, many different ways of healing have emerged. Many people are now finding that telling their story helps them become better.
Augustus Merasty is one of them. And more than tell his story, he wrote a book. “The Education of Augie Merasty” by Joseph Augustus Merasty, with David Carpenter was just released by University of Regina Press, and is one man’s exploration of the Indian Residential School legacy.
Augie Merasty currently lives in Prince Albert, and as David Carpenter shared, “As far as his health goes, Augie had a lot to say. Until about 2008, he was a vigorous man. He continued to hunt, ice-fish and walk many miles up around Birch Portage. In 2006, Augie went on a public tirade against cigarette smoking. He wrote me about it, concluding, "Last summer I walked 34 miles between rides before getting to Prince Albert, a total of 17-18 hours. But I made it. Would a smoker do that?"
Augie is now 83. His health has been constantly impacted by the school experience and yet he was determined to share his story: his daughter Arlene explained he began writing around 2000, adding to it for over a decade. But alcohol was also a part of the IRS legacy, noted Arlene.
“My dad is like a cat with 9 lives. He almost died quite a few times during this period of writing his memoir from being beaten up on the streets of Prince Albert to almost freezing downtown where...they literally had to saw his cowboy boots off they were so frozen to his feet. He is a very tough old fellow and the doctor said anyone else would have died.” In his mid-70s, he fell off the roof of a cabin he was building in Birch Portage, which remained unfinished. He also lost some writing along with his illustrations - he is a talented artist as well - but persevered.
“He wrote this memoir to show people the unbelievable atrocities suffered by so many Indigenous people and in hope that others would come forward to tell their stories of what happened in the residential schools,” noted Arlene, adding that he began his memoir long before the TRC or anyone else had really come forward, but was relieved when others began the process. “He was so ashamed and embarrassed about the things he went through but felt it was time to tell his story because he was already in his 70's and felt he didn't have much time left.”
While he did experience some healing in sharing his writing, he has spent a lifetime suppressing the memories with alcohol, so most of all he hopes his memoir helps others heal.
“The healing has begun for me too,” notes Arlene, adding that she hopes the memoir reaches her siblings in the same way; for her it explained a lot of the suffering stemming from his IRS experiences. “I know now why he did the things he did. I cried and laughed while reading his memoir, and I can see clearly now...My heart and soul are mending.”
She adds that her dad is happy that his story is being told, despite now suffering from cancer and dementia.
“I know he wanted more people to come forward because it really does heal a person to get any burden off your mind. The less stress a person has the healthier you are, it's a real fact,” she observed. “Forgive yourselves and start living a good life. We should never forget the past, but at the same time it's better to look forward to the future and be better parents, grandparents, and guardians to our children.
They learn and copy everything we do. Eat healthy, think happy thoughts, and thank the universe every day for what you have, no matter how little you think you have. You already have it now if you woke up this morning and are breathing. Amazing things happen to good-hearted and happy people.”