Some Sask. schools won't teach Augie Merasty's book about residential schools: co-author

Some Saskatchewan schools are “unofficially banning” Augie Merasty’s acclaimed memoir about his harsh treatment growing up in residential school, according to the book’s co-author.

David Carpenter says some schools are 'unofficially banning' the memoir

The Education of Augie Merasty was selected for the Saskatchewan Library Association’s inaugural One Book, One Province book club this year. (Creeden Martell/CBC)

Some Saskatchewan schools are "unofficially banning" Augie Merasty's acclaimed memoir about his harsh treatment growing up in residential school, according to the book's co-author. 

The Education of Augie Merasty: A Residential School Memoir covers the author's time in the St. Therese Residential School in Sturgeon Landing, Sask., between 1935 and 1944.

Co-authored by David Carpenter, the book details the physical and sexual abuse Merasty experienced during his time there. Merasty died at age 87 on Monday.

Merasty would often tell people he was writing a book but no one believed him, his co-author and publisher said. (Facebook)

The memoir has been adopted by schools across Canada as a study book for high school students.

But Carpenter said the book was being unofficially banned at some Saskatchewan schools, including some where he is scheduled to speak about the memoir in March. 

"I really have to fight against the reticence of people to let their high school students read it," he said.

Carpenter noted the book is being studied more outside of Merasty's home province than inside.

"I'll be talking with groups of students who, in some cases, have read it; in some cases, their principal would not allow them to read it. So, it's going to be a bit of a challenge."

Book promoted by library group

The Saskatchewan Library Association chose Merasty's book for its first community reading initiative, One Book, One Province.

The website encourages "everyone in the province" to read the book as part of the project, which includes Carpenter's tour of Saskatchewan schools and public libraries. 

Merasty sent notes and stories to Carpenter over a six-year period, detailing his experiences in the St. Therese Residential School. (Creeden Martell/CBC)

The association's executive director, Judy Nicholson, said her organization did not recommend books to schools and it was up to teachers to decide what was suitable for their students.

She knew of one teacher who had expressed concerns about the book being used in schools. 

"I had one teacher ... who said that she didn't feel that she was comfortable in promoting it," said Nicholson.

She said some schools had started using the book in classes, saying it was suitable for their students.

"It certainly is less graphic than many other books that I've read that I know are being used in high schools," said Nicholson.

"There's a couple of scenes ... [that] may bring up some uncomfortable imagery for teachers to deal with and that's really what they have to decide: whether or not that's appropriate for their students and their community."

Important Saskatchewan story 

University of Regina Press director and publisher Bruce Walsh said the reaction to the book has been mostly positive. The publisher came out with the book in 2015.

He was surprised to hear Carpenter's comments about some schools avoiding the book, saying high school students across the country were studying it.

Walsh believes young people should be studying the book because it promotes empathy and understanding of the experience of residential school survivors.

It is a terrible thing to learn that in some schools kids are going to be denied it, especially in Saskatchewan.- Bruce Walsh, University of Regina Press director and publisher

"Therefore, you start to understand many of the social crises that exist within Indigenous communities."

He added that "this is how we are able to understand and move forward and make policies and create a better, more just country — it's through these kinds of stories."

Walsh said, "it is a terrible thing to learn that in some schools kids are going to be denied it, especially in Saskatchewan."

Saskatchewan's Ministry of Education also said it "has not been made aware of any concerns from schools, school divisions or the public about the use of the book The Education of Augie Merasty: A Residential School Memoir as a resource in the classroom."

According to ministry spokesperson Chris Hodges, the book is listed on the province's curriculum website as a resource that teachers may consider using where appropriate. 

"There is no directive from the ministry mandating the book's use in Saskatchewan's schools," Hodges said. "School divisions may have their own guidelines as it relates to the use of resource materials or guest lecturers in their classrooms."