Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Blanket Exercise: For Students, by Students

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.

Tomika, Eraine, Leeza and Mercedes, four young women from our high school, not only led the Blanket Exercise with University Classes, the Royal Saskatchewan Museum, the Estevan Public Library, and our own Bert Fox staff, but they also shared with fellow high school students at home and as far away as Estevan, Saskatchewan.

This group of four leaders grew out of my husband, Michael Koops' Intern, Brooklyn Orban's Canadian Studies 30 class, who witnessed the Blanket Exercise at the Treaty Four Gathering in Fort Qu'Appelle, September 2015, facilitated by our colleagues at the elementary school and their grade sevens (after I had presented the Blanket Exercise at the Elementary School.) With Mr. Koops and Ms. Orban's leadership, the girls decided to learn to facilitate the workshop. With Ms. Orban's connections at the University, soon the girls were facilitating the Blanket Exercise repeatedly, gaining confidence and finesse in their delivery.

At the end of most sessions, each of the leaders takes a group for a debrief talking circle.

Tomika tells her story of being marginalized as a young Indigenous women at her former school. She found a supportive peer group at Bert Fox and this was life-giving for her.

Eraine 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 Eraine started learning the history of Canada, the stereotypes were smashed.

Leeza tells her story of growing up in a community which often marginalized Indigenous peoples. When she moved to Fort Qu'Appelle, she learned history from an Indigenous perspective, and this changed her outlook. She took up a leadership role in the Blanket Exercise so young people, like herself, would hear the truth.

Mercedes, the youngest of the group, tells her story of being a young, Indigenous woman, and the complexity she experiences, walking in two worlds.

After the exercise is over, the girls usually each take a small group and have a talking circle. Each girl brings an item which is special to her to use as a "talking stick", passed from hand to hand, signifying who is speaking. Each talking circle is different. Sometimes people are quiet, sometimes the conversation is very emotional. There are many stories settler descendants and Indigenous peoples share in this brief moments.

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