The Education of Augie Merasty: A Residential School Memoir by Joseph Auguste Merasty and David Carpenter

The Education of Augie Merasty: A Residential School Memoir
by Joseph Auguste Merasty and David Carpenter

Every memoir is significant, on the basis that it documents a part of the human experience — and in the end, what do have if not an experience of life? In the context of the universe, this is what makes our existence unique — but there are some memoirs, some human experiences that possess a weightiness absent in others. That is, they reveal a humanity that transcends individual experience. The Education of Augie Merasty is one of these memoirs.

The cruel history of colonial settlement isn’t newly discovered — but it was hidden, deliberately and systematically for centuries. In the past fifty years and much more recently, excavations of memories, land, and archives have revealed the depth to which this erasure was taken. Merasty’s memoir is one of these excavations. [My Name is Seepeetza by Shirley Sterling (30th Anniversary Edition) is another memoir of residential schools and colonialism in Canada I’ve read this year, if you’re interested.]

I have an especial interest in these kinds of historical documents, not only as a historian of decolonization, but as an educator; the utility of the historical documents in the classroom are invaluable to convey the real effects of racism, colonialism, the power of the state in shaping our lives. Students often see the government as some kind of abstracted, remote thing, a hovering object over their lives that merely casts a shadow every once in awhile. Memoirs of this nature reveal how wrong that assumption is; the state is neither above nor below, it is embedded in every part of our lives and beings — even our DNA and the genomes that make up ourselves and our ancestry have been shaped by states and power. The Education of Augie Merasty is proof of the depth of the state in shaping human experience.

What makes The Education of Augie Merasty poignant is not only the memories he shares with the reader, but the whole of the story of this memoir’s making. The convoluted path and necessary involvement of the writer, David Carpenter — who serves as historian here — is a testament to the damage and legacy of settler colonialism in North America. The incompleteness of the stories, the silences and gaps in time and memory, as well as Augie’s language, preserved here by Carpenter, are evidence of the zigzag pathway that history is recorded, preserved, interpreted and ultimately used. As a tool to teach historical methodology, The Education of Augie Merasty is a fantastic case study.

The chronology of the memoir too, in the way it links the past to the present, is invaluable. Too often students see history as a static, buried thing of the past. That myth is a hard one to kill. But kill it we must, because history is not only the root of the present, it is also a reflection of our present selves and world. That is a key characteristic of history: Carpenter’s presence in these pages and the unresolved ending (unlike many memoirs, this is not posthumously produced) help to deliver this lesson.

Other aspects of the memoir make it even more perfect for classroom and course use: its length is short, its language is accessible, its story is compelling and shocking. The absence of larger historical events occurring in Canada and the world are also bonuses here too, allowing the instructor to compliment the text as appropriate to the course level.

Merasty’s memoir is one I will be considering for use in my courses.

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