Reconciliation took centre stage during a KAIROS Blanket Exercise that highlights how colonialism affected Canada’s indigenous people.
Held March 18 at Ponoka Elementary School, the exercise takes a physical approach to understanding colonialism with objects such as blankets to represent the land and baby dolls to represent children. Facilitated by Roy and Judy Louis, the scripted exercise follows timelines from when colonists arrived in Canada up to today. It brought raw emotions but also created understanding.
The KAIROS Blanket Exercise is about understanding and Judy says demand for facilitators has grown. “It’s really been embraced by the RCMP…They started with the top commanders.”
She said one RCMP member was able to intervene at a recent protest in Alberta and engage in conversation with protesters because of what he learned.
“So the protest was totally diffused because he actually sat down and talked,” said Judy.
For Judy, this is a sign of positive changes for the future.
She explained how the removing of a baby or blanket is symbolic of what actually occurred, which helps with understanding. In the days of Indian Residential Schools, some parents actually hid their children in the walls of homes to prevent them being taken away.
“To me it’s a very powerful experience,” added Roy.
He suggests learning through conversation is a strong tool and the Blanket Exercise has helped open the door to communication.
Judy added that thanks to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) it has allowed for conversations that would not normally occur and First Nations people are opening up to their own experiences.
“It kind of gave people permission but also support that yes, indeed, this happened,” said Judy.
The healing can begin because of the TRC, she added.
Another area Judy is excited to see is Alberta Education working to incorporate First Nations’ history into the Alberta curriculum. Teachers are now going to be required to learn about the history so they too have a greater understanding. She feels strongly there will be a ripple effect.
Roy added having the blanket exercise with a smudging ceremony in the school is something he never thought would happen.
Hitting close to home
Participant Angela Carrick found the experience opened up her understanding of the challenges indigenous people have faced over the years.
“It was very powerful. It was very eye-opening,” said Carrick.
For her the exercise hit close to home; her children’s father is indigenous and while the two are no longer together, she was able to gain a stronger sense of understanding of the challenges his family faced.
“They were always accepting of me but you don’t realize what they have all gone through,” said Carrick.
The challenges the family faced were never discussed openly and yet their lives are filled with tragedy.
Her father-and mother-in-law both passed away; one died of alcoholism and the other was murdered. The exercise touched an emotional cord in Carrick.
Issues of alcoholism in her former partner now means the two are not together. Carrick says she wants to protect her children but they also have a culture they are missing out on. “I’m trying to protect them but in the process they’re lost in between of who they are and where they belong.”
“If they live in a white society they’re not really fully accepted, especially when it comes to jobs. They are accepted in other ways but on the native side they’re totally lost too,” explained Carrick.
Despite these struggles, the exercise helped open up her understanding of what First Nations people had to deal with and how it has shaped their lives today.
She is familiar with the history of Indian Residential Schools and the negative toll it had on indigenous people but in the blanket exercise, when items were removed, it gave Carrick a sense of loss.
Over the next two months the Louis family will be travelling around Alberta to host the exercise.
Andrea Ramage, program co-ordinator with the Parent Link Centre, and Shirley Cire, adult program co-ordinator for the library said they were both pleased with the turnout and for the potential of future joint programs.