Friday, August 12, 2016

Open Eyes Open Hearts with Eraine Croucamp

After orchestrating the Blanket Exercise, each of the student leaders from Bert Fox Community High School facilitates a small group talking circle. Eraine uses a feather as a "talking stick" and explains that the feather represents a bird that can fly to a new continent. When it is Eraine's turn to speak, she tells her story of moving to Fort Qu'Appelle from South Africa. She brought with her many stereotypes about Indigenous peoples, but when she found her peer group at Bert Fox , including Indigenous friends, like Tomika and Mercedes, and when she started learning the history of Canada, the stereotypes were smashed.

The Blanket Exercise tells the history of Canada from an Indigenous perspective. Blankets represent the land on which the participants are free to move as sovereign Indigenous peoples, trading, sharing, teaching and learning from one another. Then, the newcomers land on Turtle Island, North America. At first, there is mutual respect and benefit, but slowly, the newcomers begin to position themselves as superior. Although Treaties are signed, they are quickly broken, through Canadian policy like the Indian Act which created a climate for assimilation, including institutions like Residential Schools.

Eraine taking the baby away during the Blanket Exercise.

Eraine has agreed to let me interview her. Here is our conversation, from Fort Qu'Appelle to the North West Territories where Eraine was holidaying with her family.

Sheena: Write a dollar sentence (ten words), explaining the Blanket Exercise.

Eraine: It is a participatory activity where you learn the RIGHT history....😁

Sheena: How did you feel the first time you experienced the Blanket Exercise?

Eraine: My first time seeing the Blanket Exercise was at the Treaty 4 Gathering last September. Our class went and students from University of Regina presented the Blanket Exercise. At first it was strange standing on the blankets. Through the exercise I got a baby that I named Pumpkin and I got attached to my land (blanket). It felt like I had a happy family living together. When one of the family members died due to the infected blankets, I got sad and kind of mad at the same time. And then, later on they took Pumpkin away... I felt empty.....Our land was broken...It was emotional...Later on in the exercise I noticed how slowly we started to fight for what was ours. But the thing is, you can have your land back and have peace with the other people, but you won’t have peace within ... the emptiness stays with you...Till this day I reflect back on how I felt when they took my family away. So now I can begin to understand what they went through, and I only got a little slice of the pie. I can’t imagine how much it would have hurt if I got the whole pie.

Sheena. How did you feel as you facilitated the Blanket Exercise?

Eraine: I played the role as a European. I had a lot of authority in the exercise. I had to look scary and in control. While we were facilitating the exercise it felt awful taking the babies away and being so mean to the people. I kept telling myself I had to be like that in order to help the participants connect with history. It was really fun to do it with my friends and also to have the confidence that we were helping to spread the right history. If it wasn’t for Miss Koops, Miss Orban and Mister Koops it would not have happened. I am truly grateful they allowed us to do so. They opened new door for us as friends and for the participants!

Sheena. What was your most memorable experience facilitating the Blanket Exercise?

Eraine. There were a lot: from singing in the car to practicing till late in the evening to meeting new people. But I think my best, memorable moment was when we facilitated the Blanket Exercise to our teachers from Bert Fox Community High School. It was awkward in the beginning, but in the end we built a really, good bond with the teachers. I am truly proud to say that the teachers we facilitated are my high school teachers! I didn’t realize how many of our teachers are still living the consequences of what happened. They always made me happy and helped me achieve in whatever I did. They put a smile on for our generation and they face their scars at the same time. I believe that this is like the people who are all around us, not just the teachers. The teachers I had, they are my role models. I look up to their strength.

Sheena What have you learned through your experience with the Blanket Exercise?

Earaine. I learned the right history. The one I was taught in South Africa was horrible, but thanks to the Blanket Exercise I was able to learn the truth from an Indigenous perspective. I also learnt that what happened in the past made people who survived stronger. The past makes us stronger and I take my hat off for those people. Our future is in our hands and in order to go forward we need to heal from the past! The Blanket Exercise made me stronger!

Sheena. What metaphor or simile would you use to help people understand the Blanket Exercise?

Eraine. The Blanket Exercise is like a being in a show, because you go into a role or character and then you give your performance. When it’s done you have to get out of the role and go join the crowd (the people in your life or even people in Canada). What counts is what you will be doing after your show.

Sheena. What are your hopes and dreams flowing out of your experience with the Blanket Exercise?

Eraine. I am going to the University of Regina. I am going to study education. I want to join the people who facilitated my first Blanket Exercise team and carry on helping the history spread. I am hoping to become a teacher and through education I am going to make sure the right history is shared and also to make it fun. It’s going to be a challenge because I want to teach the little ones ( Pre-k to grade 5). I hope that the Blanket Exercise becomes a big hit in education.

Sheena. Is there anything else you'd like to tell me?

Eraine. We could not have done it without you Miss Koops and Miss Orban and also Mister Koops! Thank you to you all!!* You made my eyes open. And created a new room in my heart!!* I am going to miss you all!!* I had lots of fun and I can leave with good memories!!*💖

Miss Brooklyn, BFCHS Intern with Tomika, Leeza, Miss Oneida
with Eraine in the front row

Eraine and her friends facilitate the Blanket Exercise at the University of Regina,
as they did multiple times in the 2015-2016 school year

 Leeza, Tomika and Eraine, playing the role of the Eruopeans in the Blanket Exercise

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