Photo: Students and teachers in the UTS gym during the Blanket Exercise.
The Blanket Exercise, devised by Kairos Canada, is an immersive simulation experience centered on the historical changes that accompanied the arrival of Europeans to Turtle Island (one of the indigenous names for the continent of North America).
We recently invited two groups of Kairos facilitators, as well as indigenous elders, to guide our F1 (Grade 7) classes through this exercise.
Students and facilitators gathered in the UTS gym and in the Upper FeUT gym. To begin with, in each space, the students and their teachers formed a circle around a diverse array of blankets. These signified the lands and communities of the various indigenous peoples of Turtle Island. Welcomed by the elders, our students embodied these indigenous communities by walking on the blankets.
Initially, there was a clear sense of joy and play for our students as they explored each blanket, moving among them, jumping and circling their Turtle Island. However, these happy emotions dissipated quickly as our students began to face the challenges and demands wrought by various facets of Canada’s history.
The F1 students watched members of their groups “die” (leave the blanket) through historical contact with Europeans, be cut off from their communities and stranded outside the warmth of their blankets as they learned about residential schools and the sixties scoop. And as they became aware of the cumulative effect of these historical injustices, our students’ strength was gradually sapped.
However, they also learned about the ways in which indigenous people are reclaiming their rights in the present and how leaders young and old are rejuvenating the people on and off reserves.
The Blanket Exercise was brought to a close with a talking circle lead by an elder. In the UTS gym, this was Dr. Bob Phillips, who passed a turkey feather along the circle allowing each of our students and teachers a chance to reflect on the exercise and share their learning and questions. His stories and responses indicated the respect and care he had for our students’ engagement with this important exercise.
UTS is committed to Dr. Murray Sinclair’s recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. The Blanket Exercise is part of the year-long project in which our F1 students are learning about Canada’s evolving relationship with its First Nations peoples. See also: Heeding the Call by Principal Rosemary Evans.
Originally published on the University of Toronto Schools website on February 9, 2017. Written by Anand Mahadevan, Biology teacher and Instructional Leadership Facilitator