Originally published on Sayt-k’il̓hl Wo’osim̓ (Common Bowl) of Knowledge Mobilization Project on October 3, 2015.
The resource I picked for our presentation was the Blanket Exercise (3rd edition). It is an interactive activity where, with the exception of the narrator and two Europeans, all participants represent Indigenous peoples of Canada. The participants move across blankets on the floor. The blankets on the floor represent Canada before the arrival of European explorers and settlers. A narrator reads a script tracing the history between Indigenous nations and European explorers and settlers. The script ends with very few participants remaining on blankets, which has been folded up into small bundles; the folded up blanket represents a fraction of the original land prior to European contact (Kairos, 2013). The goal of the Blanket Exercise is to illustrate the history through the lens of Indigenous Peoples.
The rationale for selecting this resource was because I felt it tied in with the week’s theme. The week’s theme was Our Relationship: Reframing Indigenous and Western Epistemological and Societal Relationships to Benefit Aboriginal Students. First of all, the Blanket Exercise is about the relationship between Indigenous Nations in Canada and European explorers and settlers. Unlike text books and box office movies, the script/story highlights the historical and contemporary oppressive policies and practices. On the top page 2 of the resource manual, in bold letters, it states, “The Blanket Exercise: Learning the history we’re rarely taught.”
The role of Indigenous knowledge, content or perspectives
Most of Canada’s history was written from a Eurocentric perspective. Battiste (2013) argued the “Eurocentric education policies and attempts at assimilation have contributed to major global losses in Indigenous languages and knowledge.” The Blanket Exercise is a teaching tool to raise awareness of the Indigenous peoples of Canada and their relationship with non-Indigenous people. The Blanket Exercise disrupts the cognitive imperialistic approach we see today and teaches history of Canada that most people have never learned. Regan (2010) contends, how people learn about injustices is just as important of learning the truths of what happened.” The Blanket Exercise “is a away to open, or continue, the conversation of decolonization. It is designed to deepen the understanding of the denial of Indigenous people’s nationhood through Canadian history.”
The original Blanket Exercise was written by Ed Bianch, Suzanne Doege, Chris Hiller and Dr. Rose-Alma Macdonald (Assembly of First Nations) in 1998. One of the original authors of the Blanket Exercise is Dr. Rose-Alma Macdonald (Assembly of First Nations). “She is a Mohawk woman who has over 30 years experience in a variety of capacities at the Aboriginal level. She has worked on the national level on the issue of social security reform, First Nation capacity building, self government development, self sufficiency enhancement and advocacy particularly as they relate to the issue of strategies to reduce the intergenerational dependency of Aboriginal people on social assistance.” http://www.kateniesresearch.com/biography.html. The 3rd edition was revised by Layadaowehs Lu Ann Hill-Macdonald, from Six Nations and Priscilla Solomon and from the Henvy Inlet First Nations, and a number of non Indigneous people.
It is very important to note an organization named KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives has the copyright to the Blanket Exercise. Kairos is an organization that “unites eleven national Canadian churches and religious organization in faithful work for human rights and ecological justice through research, education, partnership, and advocacy (Kairos, 2013). As a result of the forced assimilative practice of residential schools, run by the churches, may create huge scepticism of using this resource. However, going through the resource itself, there is no proselytisizing. The KAIROS website noted, “Through partnerships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous groups and communities, KAIROS works towards a just, peaceful and respectful relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples that recognizes Indigenous rights.”
There are many benefits of using this resource. The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples pointed out how there was a false assumption “ of settler superiority positioned Aboriginal students as inherently inferior.” It stated that public education is key to realizing a renewed relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigneous peoples-one based on sharing, respect and the mutual recognition of rights and responsibilities (Battiste, 2013). The Blanket Exercise is one expression of the commitment to that public education (KAIROS, 2013).
Going back to our theme, Our Relationship: Reframing Indigenous and Western Epistemological and Societal Relationships to Benefit Aboriginal Students. The relationship between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous peoples is so important in moving forward. There is still so much racism that exists; the Blanket Exercise is one way to decrease the racism towards Indigenous Peoples, which would benefit Indigenous students.
Another benefit is that the Blanket Exercise can be adapted to include the very nation you are having the exercise taken place on. The manual is easy to use. It is an interactive resource that goes through a very thorough historical account of oppressive practices against the Indigenous Peoples. At the beginning of the exercise, quotes from elders are introduced.
Lastly, the Blanket Exercise has two versions, one for grades 4-8 and the other one is from grades 9 to adult. So depending on which grade you teach, you could use the version most applicable to your target audience.
The challenge in this activity is to have enough time to properly implement the Blanket Exercise. One recommendation in my class suggested introducing terms and Indigenous life before European contact. There was a slight mention of this in the Exercise Activity, but I totally agree with this suggestion. Thus in reflection, when using the Blanket Exercise, allow a lesson or 2 before the Blanket Exercise and to allow time for a proper closure Talking Stick activity.
One of the challenges is to have enough blankets for the event and a room large enough to accommodate it. The room size may also warrant a microphone system. It is important to read the instructions, especially about participants’ feelings and the serious nature of the activity. Unfortunately with the time limit, I did not have the time to do this. Another important challenge that I observed was the fact that this version does not mention Harpers denial of colonialism statement. This would be very important for students to learn and something that could be brought to Kairo’s attention for a future edition.
The Blanket Exercise was designed as an educational tool. Therefore, I would definitely use it in my classroom. In planning for next year, I would like to teach literacy through social justice issues. So for my Grade 8 English class next year, I will do the younger version edition of the Blanket Exercise with them.
Further, the Blanket Exercise can be used at a Professional Development Day for staff. We can not assume that everybody in school is knowledgeable about the “real” history of Indigenous Peoples. This exercise is a good visual; and it will allow for movement. Since the Pro D is usually 2-3 hours, there will be some time to go over some terminology and rationale for doing the Blanket Exercise. At the end of the Blanket Exercise, the staff will be in a Talking Circle to discuss their feelings and thoughts on the exercise. I will approach the Professional Development Committee on having a Pro D Day on either Social Justice Issues or Indigenous Classrooms.
At first, doing the blanket with the entire staff would be quite daunting. However, on June 1st, 2015, the massive Blanket Exercise will be held at Parliament Hill during the Time for Reconciliation closing event. Hosted by the Assembly of 7 Nations, the Kairos staff and Gabrielle Fayant of the Assembly of 7 Generations will facilitate the Blanket Exercise outside of Parliament Hill to educate others on the history of the Indigenous People.
In summary, this resource could be used in your classroom or any large event to teach others the Indigenous Peoples’ history.
Battise, M. (2013). The legacy of forced assimilation education for Indigenous peoples. In Decolonizing Education: Nourishing the Learning Spirit. pp 23-33 Purich Publishing: Saskatoon, SK.
Regan, P. (2010). Unsettling the settler within: Indian residential schools, truth telling, and reconciliation in Canada. UBC Press: Vancouver, BC.
Kairos. (2013). The Blanket Exercise (3rd Edition), Ottawa: Ontario. Retrieved from: http://www.kairoscanada.org/product-category/blanket-exercise