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Truth Plus Memoir Equals Revolution

When you write a memoir, you share your truths, good and bad, with those whose eyes follow your words. It’s mind to mind. It’s enlightenment, and quite possibly medicine.

Franz Kafka famously said, “A book should be the axe for the frozen sea within us.”

Such a book is The Education of Augie Merasty: A Residential School Memoir published earlier this year by the University of Regina Press.

A memoir that is a sentinel to truth

A memoir that is a sentinel to truth

Just seventy-three pages, this book represents one Cree man’s experience with abuses he endured as a child at the St. Therese Residential School in Saskatchewan, from 1935 to 1944. It’s an era that has been invisible to most of us, due mostly to a conspiracy of silence. His book is visible, real, a testament here to stay. Joseph Auguste Merasty, like the taxi driver, woodsman and warrior he was, persisted with his memoir for several years. He had his reasons:

  1. In correspondence with his editor David Carpenter, he wrote that he’d heard that one way of achieving immortality was writing a book. Leaving something behind after you ‘kick the bucket’ so you will be remembered. In this regard, he agreed with many memoirists, including Mordecai Richler who said, “Fundamentally, all writing is about the same thing: it’s about dying.”

  2.  In the conclusion of his book, he writes that he hopes what he has related has some impact, so that the abuse and terror that Indian children were subjected to, in his school and other schools in Canada, never happens again. He has a desire to recreate a better world by bearing witness, by breaking the silence. Another way of saying this is that it’s about healing individuals and a society. As Bishop Tutu said, “Without memory, there is no healing.” Merasty has made his memories visible in this small volume. Memories that are brutal and bitter, friendly and charitable.

Now that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has come out with 94 recommendations to bring about justice, which is aimed at healing the injustices, is a new chapter in the magic that is Canada possible? We have poured billions into preserving the French language and culture, so now would be the time to make a similar gesture to the people who were on this land before French or English. Now would be the time to open a federal inquiry into what is at the root of “missing and murdered aboriginal women”. Now would be the time to ensure more post-secondary education for people on reserves. As John Ralston Saul asked in today’s Globe and Mail, is this our last chance to get it right?

Joseph Auguste Merasty gave his memories of the St. Therese Residential School to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Then to the rest of us in his book.

Please read The Education of Augie Merasty. Connect with his mind and medicine. Join the revolution around you. If you read the book, I hope you cherish it and the man as much as I do.

And oh yes, write your own memoir to join the other revolution—that of memoir writing. Often a third or more of the non-fiction books in the New York Times and the Globe and Mail are memoirs. What memories and medicine do you have to offer your family and/or the world?

Do someone a favour. Leave seeds of truth behind you. Seeds that become bearers of beauty … like these lupin sentinels in my yard.

Lupin in my yard.

Lupin in my yard.

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13 comments on “Truth Plus Memoir Equals Revolution

  1. I didn’t realize just how true, “Without memory, there is no healing” was until I started writing my own memoir. We must remember so that we can process our memories and that’s what memoir is all about–remembering, processing and healing. The Education of Augie Merasty is on my summer list of reading.

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  2. This looks like an important book. I wonder if he is the one who tells about being put in the electric chair. Horrible. A shameful part of our history. Pat

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  3. It sounds like an interesting and important book, Diane. Thanks for highlighting it.
    On CBC Radio I heard an interview with a researcher-writer of Canadian history. He mentioned the Great Treaty between the Aboriginal people and the British – a treaty between equals. He said the domination of Aboriginal people today is a complete violation of the treaty.
    There is much we could have learned from Aboriginal people about how to live together and how to live with the earth. I wonder if it’s too late now.

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  4. Cynthia, surely it’s not too late. There seems to be awareness now. There was a time when francophones in Quebec were considered second-class citizens in their own province, then steps were taken, and that is no longer the case. Mind you, it’s not perfect. I’d like to know more about the Great Treaty …

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  5. You make a powerful case for the memoir. I am also intrigued to learn more about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. There are parallel injustices in Australia and to a certain extent in NZ. We have The Treaty of Waitangi as a foundational document and we are still, on the basis of that Treaty, making amends for injustices to the Maori. The process is long.

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    • Interesting that you, too, have an original Treaty. Yes, long process, but it does seem that many want to be on this path. By the way, our Truth and Reconciliation was based on South Africa’s model. Thank you for bringing Australia and New Zealand into this discussion.

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  6. Diane, it saddens me to think of how much energy and effort went into preserving an immigrant culture while the original one was left to languish. I hope the present and future aboriginal communities rise up and soar. Then we all can truly be proud to be Canadian. I’m not proud of parts of our past.
    Blessings ~ Wendy ❀

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    • You’re right, Wendy, the old way was wrong. I think the rise from the ashes is happening. This is the seventh generation, and many have become role models for the others in education, the arts, science. And I agree that being Canadian means a future that does not involve systemic oppression of any group. Won’t happen overnight, but we are on our way, I do believe.
      “With visible breath I am walking
      A voice I am sending as I walk
      In a sacred manner I am walking
      With visible tracks I am walking …
      – Black Elk, Oglala Sioux

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