It Happened Here: KAIROS Blanket Exercise
This fall, volunteers with some of our Youth Advisory Groups took part in a KAIROS Blanket Exercise.
The KAIROS Blanket Exercise program is a unique, participatory history lesson – developed in collaboration with Indigenous Elders, knowledge keepers and educators – that fosters truth, understanding, respect and reconciliation among Indigenous and non-indigenous peoples.
- from the KAIROS Blanket Exercise website
One of the attendees at Barbara Frum Branch reflects on the experience in this blog post.
Written by Arax, age 17, Youth Advisory Group member at Barbara Frum Branch.
On Saturday of last week, I participated in the KAIROS Blanket exercise. It was quite the eye-opening experience, and will certainly not leave my memory any time soon.
The leader of our activity, Laura Lee Robertson, was of Indigenous descent. Her mother was an Indigenous woman, and her father was descended from one of the original European settlers to Canada. She told us many stories: those of her mother and those of others. Together, the stories made up a nearly complete history of the First Nations people. Sadly, their history was intertwined with suffering, massive communal hardship and needless death.
We started by learning about the First Nations’ creation story, their story of how the lands of the Earth came to be. The story felt much more real when one of the handouts we were given, a map of North and South America, looked a lot like a turtle when held up vertically! After learning more about geography, such as where the lands with treaties were and where there were none, we learned a very startling fact about modern day reserves. All the Canadian reserves could fit inside of one American reserve, the one for the Navajo people.
Then, we dove into the exercise. On the floor, there were many blankets, representing how the land first belonged to the Indigenous people. For a while, the hundreds of different nations coexisted in harmony with nature, taking only what was necessary. This is a philosophy they still follow today. But that all changed when the Europeans arrived.
In the beginning, there were treaties made with the First Nations people. They (the First Nations) thought that these treaties for trade would last forever, and so they welcomed the foreigners to their land. However, as time went by, the treaties started being ignored, to the point that not many people know today if their house was built on treaty or non-treaty land.
When they arrived, our blankets started getting folded in. As more settlers came, our blankets became smaller and smaller, and things started to get tight. We all felt uncomfortable. When the measles, smallpox and tuberculosis arrived, some of our group were asked to sit down at our seats and join the elders. For almost every negative action that occurred, at least one of us on the blankets was asked to sit down. Considering that each of us represented hundreds to thousands of First Nation people, the exercise was very painful.
The diseases were just the beginning. With the Europeans came many fights against unfair government laws, residential schools, and the Sixties Scoop, to name just a few. Some of the consequences included children estranged from families and culture, complete relocation of groups from their homes, and of course, an increasing shrinking of territory size. The atmosphere in the room was very somber, and very pensive.
At the end of the project, our practice’s leader, who was a social worker, led us in a thought circle. We each said something we learned, and something we felt when doing the exercise. Many people spoke very passionately, with one of my fellow Youth Advisory Group members giving her personal thoughts on the cases of the missing and murdered Indigenous women, and how the government should act upon their knowledge of how horrendous residential schools were.
The Kairos Blanket exercise, was, all in all, an emotional experience. I learned many things about Indigenous people, and hope to improve our relationships with them in the future.
Learn more about volunteering with a Youth Advisory Group at a library branch near you.