The Blanket Exercise can cause strong emotions and difficult memories to surface for some participants, particularly if they have been personally impacted by the oppressive and assimilationist policies described in the activity. It is essential to provide proper support during and after the workshop to ensure that the Blanket Exercise is as safe an experience as possible for all participants. If your event is open to the public it is even more important to have health support in place.
Before you host or facilitate the Blanket Exercise, think about what kind of support you can provide during the workshop and what type of follow-up you can make available. This may include contacting an Elder or a traditional knowledge keeper who is experienced at offering support to people in distress Please see the section on Working with Elders.
Someone with counselling experience can also play this role. In general you will want your health support to be Indigenous – in most cases this will make Indigenous participants feel safer. For more information:
- In a school setting: many school boards have staff who provide support and cultural programming to Indigenous students and who can likely provide more information on local support services and resources.
- Many Friendship Centres or Indigenous community centres are able to provide a list of locally available support services.
- Health Canada has a listing of regional health offices for First Nations and Inuit health care. The listing can be found at:
- Health Canada also offers a webpage on coping with emotional reactions which can be downloaded as a pamphlet. The Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line – 1-866-925-4419 – is available 24 hours a day for anyone experiencing pain or distress as a result of his or her residential school experience.
Preparing a sheet that participants can take home with information on relevant support services, especially those locally available, is advised.
During the Blanket Exercise
Give a thorough explanation at the beginning of what is about to take place and let participants know that they can leave or step back if they do not feel ready to delve into those parts of the exercise that resonate with their own experience. Tell participants that the experience includes references to disease outbreaks, , residential schools, adoption and foster care, loss of status, and missing and murdered
Indigenous women. Identify the person/people providing health support and refer to the hand-out that lists support services.
After the Blanket Exercise
Consider how you will close off the session in a way that is affirming and uplifting so that people leave in a good way. Having time at the end for a debrief is crucial. Generally this takes the form of a Talking Circle which encourages people to speak from the heart and avoids debate. By going around the circle you will have a good sense as a facilitator if someone may need additional support. The first time around may be very heavy and if time permits you may want to go around the Circle again. As the debrief is nearing the end, try to steer the conversation towards hopeful and positive topics such as examples of resilience and resistance, and next steps that people can take on their journey of healing and reconciliation. For more information, please see the section on Facilitating Talking Circles.
Drum songs and a prayer from the Elder are often used to close Blanket Exercises. Also, offering food can help participants to come out of the experience in a good way. Ensure that the contact information for on-going support services is easily accessible for participants as they leave. Note that by lingering behind you will give people a chance to talk to you one-on-one if needed.