Every Sunday, for the duration of the traveling community art exhibition Reconciliation: What does it mean to you? – from August 13 to December 2, 2017 – to honour the complexity of the task, I will publish a post about my process of decolonization.
KAIROS Blanket Exercise: Learning Canada’s Dark History
June 11, 2017 – The Blanket Exercise at La Ruche d’Art St-Henri
So, what is the KAIROS Blanket Exercise? The exercise is an interactive learning experience that covers over 500 years of history in roughly two hours. The participants of the exercise, this year’s 1Ls, took on the role of the Indigenous peoples of Canada, while the facilitators acted as colonizers. Blankets are utilized to represent Indigenous lands, and as time progresses from pre-contact to colonization, blankets are removed as Indigenous lands are occupied by the colonizers. – Kairos Canada Read more…
As a way to better understand what had happened between Indigenous people, Métis, Inuits and settlers, we, the willing participants, were asked to bring a blanket and a doll. The blanket to symbolize the land of Indigenous, Métis and Inuit nations and the doll, a child taken into residential school.
The blankets were put on the ground and we were invited to step on one of them with our baby in our harms. Each in our turn, we were asked to read aloud a short text about one of the processes of cultural genocide that were used by the colonial state “to assimilate the Aboriginal peoples in an effort to terminate their existence as distinct legal, social, cultural, religious, and racial entities in Canada” (1) from precolonial time to colonization, from residential schools to children in foster care today.
The power of embodying these past and present events is difficult to describe. I just know that it took me the full 2 hours – during which we were moving from one blanket to another, after lands were stolen, occupied, nations displace; during which we were listening to the description of what had happened, often in the words of a person who had survived – for my whole being to start, and only start, grasping the extend of the atrocities committed.
And it was only when my baby was taken from my arms, to be put in a residential school, that the pain broke through the resistance I had created to distance myself from the experience. A visceral pain, an unbearable pain, a pain much bigger than me. Me, a mother that had been unable to take care and live on the same roof of her one child for 8 years, from the time he was about 10, because I was suffering from a chronic illness.
A pain which got across my body/heart/mind/soul, tearing apart my very narrow stance on the situation and making me realized that in the case of the Indigenous people, Métis and Inuits, it was not a singular experience, it had happened to whole communities. For more than one generation.
How could had they survived all that? My singular pain had almost killed me, and they were still alive. How?
The answer came, but not in words. At one point, I felt a warm, gentle, caring energy raising through my bare feet. Uplifting my consciousness. Something I don’t wish to put into words, but that I don’t want to doubt either. A presence that I had also encountered in the teachings of Robin Wall Kimmerer, a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, about the intelligence in all kinds of life (2), challenging the use of the pronoun it when we talk about nature (3).
At that point, I felt that the Indigenous people, Métis and Inuits knew something I didn’t, not only about the truth of our collective history, but about life. It became obvious that I needed to pursue my decolonization if I wanted to further understand and embody that it that wasn’t an it anymore.
My deepest gratitude to Nina Segalowitz (4), and her partner Keio, for leading this Blanket Exercise with so much grace and compassion. It was a true moment of healing, of transformation. Of reconciliation.
Typo or mistake, let me know, I will be very grateful