In the early seventies when not all universities had Aboriginal programs or courses, the University of Regina under the auspices of Canadian Plains Research Centre Press published books on a variety of educational topics and Aboriginal history. They published 230 books from 1974 until 2013 when the CPRC became the U of Regina Press and Bruce Walsh was hired as director. A savvy veteran of the book industry, Walsh is two-time winner of the Libris Award for outstanding contribution to Canadian publishing and has worked with the best of Canadian writers, including Alice Munro, Leonard Cohen, and Margaret Atwood. “I’m joining a team of publishing professionals who have a history of putting out sophisticated and necessary books,” Walsh said when he was hired. “I have every expectation that we will do great things together.”
David Malloy, the Associate Vice-President (Research) of the University of Regina was happy to have Walsh as director of the U of Regina Press. “I am pleased to have someone of Bruce Walsh’s calibre join us at the University of Regina. With a goal to enhance scholarship, discover great writers, and have our books read around the world, we are very pleased to have Bruce leading the publishing team.”
It didn’t take the team long to produce. Regina U Press have two best sellers in 2015: The Education of Augie Merasty: A Residential School Memoir and Clearing the Plains, both nonfiction. “In less than two years, we’re a player on the Canadian publishing scene,” Bruce Walsh said, “and we’re working very hard to have a footprint internationally.” Walsh also has high expectations for Children of the Broken Treaty written by Charlie Angus and due for release in August. “It’s going to make readers rage at a system stacked against First Nations kids.”
The Education of Augie Merasty: A Residential School Memoir is a true story told by a man who was brought to St. Therese Residential Residential School in northern Saskatchewan in 1935 when he was 5 years old. He would remain there for nine painful years. The book looks back at the sadistic practices of the religious orders, nuns, and brothers against the vulnerable children. Physical punishment, mental and sexual abuse are recounted by Merasty, who still can’t understand why former students and his own family didn’t protest the treatment of children in these schools. Merasty also recounts how the administrators of the school would dupe Native leaders when they made their annual visit by providing hearty meals that gave the impression students were being treated well at the school. The truth was much different; students were never fed proper food—more like the scraps.
Released at a time when the Truth and Reconciliation report stated that the residential schools were cultural genocide, The Education of Augie Merasty is a first-hand account of how the schools operated and the price the children were forced to pay. This book should be in every high school in the country.
James Daschuk, author of Clearing the Plains, is a health studies professor at the University of Regina Kinesiology. Daschuk began researching the book twenty years ago while attending the University of Manitoba, collecting information about the famines First Nations had deal with, many of them brought on by European settlers and most of them controlled by the government. Prime Minister John A. Macdonald was one of the “Fathers of Confederation” who was pushing for the railroad; he promised in parliament that emergency rations for Natives would be suspended “until the Indians were on the verge of starvation, to reduce the expense.” Broken treaties filled with hollow promises and the damage created by the fur trade are also examined in in depth. Historian Elizabeth A. Fenn described Clearing the Plains as “a tour de force that dismantles and destroys the view that Canada has a special claim to humanity in its treatment of indigenous peoples.”
Bruce Walsh and the U of R Press team can take pride in their accomplishments, and the future does look bright. The motto at U of R Press is “A voice for many peoples” Walsh says. “We will try to honour that with our editorial choices, whether by publishing scholars or the homeless.”