On Sunday, April 22, St. Patrick’s Parish in Yellowknife held a Blanket Exercise for their parishioners. Suzette Montreuil offers her reflections on the experience.
The Blanket Exercise is an interactive learning experience that teaches the Indigenous history that was rarely taught in schools. It was developed by Kairos, an ecumenical movement for ecological justice and human rights in response to the 1996 Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. The Commission had recommended education on Canadian-Indigenous history as one of the key steps to reconciliation. The Blanket Exercise covers over 500 years of history with participants taking on the roles of Indigenous peoples in Canada. Standing on blankets that represent the land, they walk through pre-contact, early trade, treaty-making, colonization and resistance. At St. Patrick’s on April 22nd, we used a northern version that sited events, people and stories that happened in the NWT.
The exercise was facilitated by Maggie Mercredi and our group of 26 was directed by the narrator who read the story and three European colonizers. Participants started trading items among themselves and then experienced contact with European settlers. We were drawn into the experience by reading scrolls and carrying cards which ultimately determine whether you lived, died, were relocated, or went to residential schools.
The talking circle after the exercise gave us a chance to express our first reactions. Words of sorrow and regret pervaded the discussion. Here are some of our reactions:
“I worked in health care for 35 years but I didn’t know the story of aboriginal people. It helps me understand them better.”
“I knew the history of Indigenous people but when you actually hear what people said they wanted to do, like wipe out First Nations by sharing infected blankets, it is awful.”
“My son spoke to me about suicide every day. 24 h a day, 7 on 7, 365 days.”
“I was heartbroken when the baby was taken from the woman without consent.”
“I didn’t know about the baby scoop until about 3 years ago. It is horrible that this happened in my life time.”
“I left my home town to pursue education. Residential school was good for me, I met the love of my life. But I still feel the impact of shunning from my home town. They say I don’t belong there anymore.”
But words of hope and resistance also emerged.
“When they started to move me off my part of the blanket, I wanted to fight back.”
“I was so proud of my dad who was white, I couldn’t be a proud aboriginal woman. Today, I am so proud to be aboriginal.”
“I accept the responsibility to do my part in reconciliation.”
“I am a Dene Suliné woman and this is my Church.”
“Last time I did this exercise, I felt so sad. This time, I feel more hopeful, things can get better.”
“This is not just about government. Our church, this parish, we have to respond to the call for reconciliation. I don’t know what it will look like but we have a part to play.”
There are many actions that St. Patrick’s parish and our Diocese could take as part of our reconciliation. But to start, we need to have a conversation, a dialogue with the Indigenous people in our parish and our community to continue our journey to healing and reconciliation. If we can truly listen to each other, we have a chance to understand and heal.
Volunteer Social Justice Coordinator