KAIROS Blanket Exercise Education Resource Kit (Edu-Kit) Briefing Sheets

LEARNING AREAS  |  Pre-Contact  |  Early Contact & Treaties  |  Colonial Governance & Indian Residential School  |  Indigenous Rights, Resurgence & Contemporary Colonialism  |

Pdf file download illustration BRIEFING SHEET: PRE-CONTACT
Language Map of North America

Overview: Pre-Contact

The Blanket Exercise begins with the traditional Indigenous occupation of the land now known as the country of Canada. We see on the maps, and through the experience of walking on the blankets, how many First Nations and Inuit communities existed and how their overlapping territories covered the entire land mass. It is important to note that this period of the exercise lasts only a few minutes but represents many thousands of years of time, much more time than the few hundred years of colonization which the rest of the Blanket Exercise covers.

In this section you are invited to learn more about the Indigenous history of your local area. Unfortunately most history books only offer a few generic pieces of information about traditional lifestyles. As you discuss the pre-contact era with students, it is highly encouraged to take a local and specific approach.

Land, resources, story and unique cultures of the various Nations are bound together. What were the traditional technologies, governance, social roles, relationship to the land and spiritual beliefs of the Nation, or Nations in your area? What events are recorded in oral history? What family and place names survive? What is the language? And, branching out from there, what were relationships like with other nearby Nations, and how were disputes handled?

Please refer to page 8 of the Blanket Exercise Script, Standard Edition

Key Terms & Concepts

Related concepts for further study, and to ask knowledge-keepers and Elders

  • traditional governance
  • matriarchal
  • hunting society
  • 7 grandfather teachings
  • medicine wheel
  • creation stories
  • Turtle Island
  • sacred medicines
  • oral history

Cultural Connections

  • Find a printed copy or invite a speaker to share the creation story of the local First Nation community. (Indigenous students in the class may be able to help).
  • Expose students to experiences of traditional Indigenous culture, especially of the Nation(s) whose traditional territory the school is on. It is important to do this in a culturally appropriate way, i.e. using information created by those Nations themselves.  I.e. invite a parent or Elder or Indigenous artist in to do a traditional craft, skill or food lesson, or visit a cultural site as a field trip.

Ideas for ReconciliACTIONs / Service-based learning projects

  • Get students to write, with the input of Elders or local knowledge keepers (i.e. at a cultural site), a locally-specific paragraph that could be used in local versions of the Blanket Exercise script. It could address local traditional land use and specific ways of life. With special permission perhaps it could include the creation story.
  • Offer some kind of gift of thanks to any Elders or other visitors the class hosts. Loose tobacco is a traditional gift for First Nations Elders. Art by the students or other items could also be gifts of thanks. Also, offer to help with practical issues of travel (give a ride or taxi money), meals (have snacks or a meal and coffee or tea), and an honorarium for their time. Check with a parent or community member if you aren’t sure about the local protocols. Share this information with students, getting them to reflect on reciprocity and ‘giving thanks as culturally variant customs.

Further training resources for educators

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Pdf file download illustration BRIEFING SHEET: EARLY CONTACT & TREATIES

Overview: Early Contact & Treaties

The Blanket Exercise continues with the arrival of European people. These people are sometimes referred to as “explorers”, “settlers”, “colonizers” etc… We start to witness the different worldviews encountering each other.

In this unit we begin to look at the colonization process. We introduce questions about the various motivations and intentions of the arriving Europeans. What beliefs did they hold about other peoples? How did their worldview and goals affect the way they saw the land, resources and people they encountered?  How did the Indigenous peoples’ worldviews affect the way they responded?  It is helpful in this unit to understand differences in worldview by looking at the differences in belief systems, for example by comparing biblical and indigenous creation stories.*

Wampum Belt

As the Blanket Exercise continues to unfold, we begin to see the blankets shrinking. We see how the European culture and worldview became imposed as the land was slowly taken over by settlers, through various means, including intentional illness and through direct violence.

Here we also introduce Métis history, culture and resistance to colonization, and resistance to increasing violence and the effects of European market economy.

And we invite a deeper study of the treaties (or in British Columbia, the absence of treaties). What treaties were signed that applied to the land in which you live? Where did the tradition of treaty making come from? And, what impact did Indigenous governance and diplomacy have on European thought? How do the oral and written versions of treaties differ? What is the difference between historical and modern day treaties? Are there areas near you where Indigenous people are trying to regain control of land or resources that were originally protected to them under the treaties?

*Consider these two quotes, for example, as evidence of different worldviews that collided in the treaty process:

“The earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the earth. This we know. All things are connected like the blood which unites one family. All things are connected. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth. Man did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.”
Chief Seattle, 1854
Aboriginal Worldview

“Man is the measure of all things.”
Protagoras, Greek Philosopher (458–410 B.C.)
European Worldview

Refer to pages 8-11 of the Blanket Exercise Script, Standard Edition

Key Terms & Concepts

Related concepts for further study and research

  • nation to nation
  • wampum diplomacy (8th Fire videos offer a great introduction)
  • Two Row wampum
  • Niagara Treaty
  • Covenant Chain
  • unceded land
  • Royal Proclamation
  • fur trade

Cultural Connections

  • Invite an Indigenous artist (or study work by many Indigenous artists) to create designs reflecting land, elements and animals. This activity can also be linked to the activity of blankets for use in the Blanket Exercise, by stitching or painting images onto sheets or thin blankets. (In this case a respectful practice would be to co-create the images with an artist or get permission to copy an artist’s design, or have the students create truly original work).
  • Invite an Elder or visit a community or cultural site to ask about Indigenous concepts of land and environment.
  • Watch Wapikoni videos created by Indigenous youth about Indigenous concepts of land and environment.
  • Ask knowledge keepers to discuss with students the way different local First Nations delineated their traditional territories. Some areas were the shared/overlapping traditional territory for more than one First Nation.
  • Have a local Elder or Indigenous cultural educator join the class to teach about talking circles, perhaps they will honour the class by sharing a talking feather and explaining its purpose. This can be especially powerful shortly after doing the Blanket Exercise for the first time.
  • Invite a Métis speaker into the classroom to talk about Métis culture and history.
  • Watch / read an age-appropriate resource on the concept of two-row wampum (make sure the source was created by or includes a strong emphasis on Indigenous explanation of treaties/agreements).  Suggested video playlist.
  • For middle and high school, this is a great “500 years in 2 minutes” excerpt from the CBC 8th Fire series, featuring host and a great Canadian role model – Wab Kinew. It briefly addresses the two row wampum and treaties and the context of colonial history.

Ideas for ReconciliACTIONs / Service-based learning projects

  • Students, with input of Elders, write a paragraph for a local Blanket Exercise script from stories that may be remembered about the early contact period, and the way colonization first occurred in the territory the school is located on.
  • Remember, if your school is not a First Nation or Inuit school, engage an Elder, Indigenous community organization, or an on-reserve school to work on the script with you.
  • Students create signs that acknowledge the Nation whose traditional territory the school is on and put up signs to honour and name that Nation.
  • Students create information displays about the treaties pertaining to the land their school is on, and about any current disputes regarding the ways that treaty was broken.

Further training resources for educators

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Overview: Colonial Governance & Indian Residential School (IRS)

Next in the Blanket Exercise we experience a rapid series of historic events during which the European colonial forces exercise increasing power, including the British North America Act and the establishment of the Canadian government, the passing of the Indian Act, and related policies aimed at isolating the Indigenous presence from being spread out across all of the land to less than ½ of 1% of the original occupied territory. We witness the creation of reserves controlled by federal government Indian Agents, the outlawing of cultural and spiritual practices, and direct attempts at assimilation and cultural genocide through removing generations of First Nation, Métis and Inuit children from their families and placing them in Indian Residential Schools.

mary lou with tiles & drum

Cree Elder Mary-Lou Iahtail blessing Project of Heart tiles with students at Pierre Elliott Trudeau Elementary School, Ottawa.

This brings forward many questions about colonial processes for students to think about. Why did the Canadian government want to “kill the Indian in the child”? Why did they want to put Indigenous people onto reserves? What were the residential schools like? What was the impact of not being allowed to practice your spirituality, speak your language, see your family, etc?  How did life change for First Nations people placed on reserves, and to become sedentary?

This is a time to look at colonial sites locally. Where was the nearest IRS to your location? Or, if not near you, where did indigenous children from your area get sent to? If your community is located on a reserve, when was it created and what stories exist about the events that led up to the Nation moving onto the reserve? How does it’s size and land resources compare to the original territory your people occupied? What traditional knowledge, language, skills and stories were protected and are still practiced in your community? What has been lost?

Refer to pages 11-13 of the Blanket Exercise Script, Standard Edition

Key Terms & Concepts

Related concepts for further study

  • enfranchisement
  • loss of status
  • citizenship
  • colonial authorities
  • reserves
  • Indian Agent and the pass system
  • band council governments
  • Métis settlement
  • Métis resistance
  • Peter Bryce Report
  • inter-generational effects

Cultural Connections

  • Do research using Indigenous source material, and/or invite a knowledge-keeper or Elder to talk about the history of the nearest reserve community and/or the structure of band council governance.
  • When did the Nation move onto a reserve?
  • What pressure/duress were the people experiencing at the time?
  • Who is currently on the Band Council? What are the main issues they attend to?
  • Is there a youth council?
  • Look at oral histories on video/ or books about the period of treaties and the founding of Canada from an Indigenous perspective (and possibly compare with what is covered in the history textbooks in their class). Especially, see if the Nation nearest you has created any history texts or testimonials.
  • As part of Project of Heart, share age-appropriate testimonials about Indian Residential Schools.
    • Reading and video resources by age-level.
    • Invite an Elder/Survivor come in to talk to the students. They may smudge the tiles/art piece created.

Ideas for ReconciliACTIONs / Service-based learning projects

  • Students create a display or outdoor presentation for their school, describing what they learned in Lesson Idea: Colonial Governance: Half of One Percent. Consider marking the area in the schoolyard and leaving an art project in that location for the week.
  • Students create a presentation or installation with their Project of Heart art project and offer it as a gift to a local First Nation organization, or at the site of a former Indian Residential School (only with permission of local First Nation community).
  • Complete Project of Heart survivor cards  and deliver them to survivors, or to a local friendship centre with a letter explaining what students have been studying.
  • Plant a memorial “heart garden” on the school grounds and tend to it as a class.
  • Connect to local actions if there is a reclaimed Indian Residential School site that people from your area or community used to attend.

Further training resources for educators

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Shannen Koostachin - Shannen's Dream

Overview: Indigenous Rights, Resurgence & Contemporary Colonialism

In the final section of the Blanket Exercise, we see how colonialism has continued into recent times. We witness the “60s Scoop” and see that more Indigenous youth have been taken from their communities and placed in non-Indigenous foster homes than all those who were put into Indian Residential Schools (IRS). We also hear about how the effects of colonization and children growing up in IRS broke the natural cycles of culture, parenting skills and community well-being. This is referred to as intergenerational-trauma, where post-traumatic effects continue to be passed through the generations as healing efforts struggle against on-going injustice.

We also see how Indigenous peoples are beginning to experience a resurgence of healing. Through art, activism, legal recourse, cultural and language reclamation etc., many positive changes are occurring: the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Canadian Government Apology to former students of Indian Residential Schools, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission proceedings. These are important and landmark events showing shifts in the colonial worldview. There are also some historic treaty protections beginning to appear in Canadian law and some government policies.

However we also know that the difference between good words and true justice lies in action. We find it especially helpful to focus on the incredible leadership being displayed in Canada by young Indigenous people. For example, the late Shannen Koostachin. The Blanket Exercise ends with the invitation to look for ways to channel the knowledge and emotions from this difficult aspect of Canadian history, into positive power – to participate in healing, reconciliation and justice.


Actions can be as simple as making a display to share their information, writing letters to government representatives, hosting cultural events in the school, or lead to larger projects. First Nation educators may want to bring healing circles into the school setting or do local history projects or help students express themselves through performing arts. Some schools are starting to make it a project to interview Elders and local knowledge keepers as well as local activists to create a local adaptation of the script to include specific local information.

Young people are engaged by fighting for the equity of their peers – education equity, health, housing and welfare of Indigenous youth are great topics to address with students. And as always, if you aren’t a First Nation educator in a First Nation school, we strongly encourage you to find Indigenous-led projects to support, or Indigenous elders, educators and organizations as project partners as you plan actions.

Refer to pages 13-14 of the Blanket Exercise Script, Standard Edition

Key Terms & Concepts

Related concepts for further study

  • The White Paper and the Red Paper
  • Inuit forced relocation
  • the beginnings of ‘Indian control of Indian Education’ and reclaiming of residential schools
  • establishment of National Indian Brotherhood
  • rebirth of pow wow, sundance, round dance and potlatch ceremonies
  • creation of the UN and international human rights
  • Shannen’s Dream
  • Jordan’s Principle
  • First Nations Child Welfare Complaint to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal

Cultural Connections

  • Talk with students about how to maintain an on-going relationship with any new friends, Elders etc… who they have come in contact with during the Blanket Exercise.
  • Learn about a rights-based issue facing the local First Nation community, or partner with a remote school in need of assistance, and invite someone in to talk about it with students.
  • Develop an on-going relationship with a knowledge-keeper or Elder, or a First Nation community organization, or project.
  • Incorporate an Indigenous media source as a weekly classroom activity e.g., watch an age-appropriate show on APTN.ca or follow Indigenous-created news on a particular issue.
  • Whichever action project students select, invite someone involved to Skype or visit the classroom so that students can feel directly connected. Or promote student leadership by having students group-skype or pen-pal with another class who has already done the project.

Ideas for ReconciliACTIONs / Service-based learning projects

  • Start a “Shannen’s Dream club”.
  • Write letters to government about education inequity.
  • Have a Heart Day.
  • Organize or attend an “Our Dreams Matter Too” Walk.
  • Learn about a rights-based issue facing the local First Nation school or community and invite someone in to talk about it with students. Ask the guest what action the class could take to help.
  • Finish a local version of the Blanket Exercise script and lead it for other classes, parents or guests.
  • Watch “I am Witness” vignettes on Youtube, then sign up as a class for the “I am a witness” campaign and create your own vignettes to read to the class or at a school event.

Further training resources for educators:

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This Edu-Kit was produced in partnership between KAIROS and the Community Learning Centre Initiative of LEARN in Quebec, with visioning and on-going advisory provided by many Indigenous and non-Indigenous educators, community leaders and Elders.