‘Blanket Exercise’ workshop aims to improve relations

Heather Latter

The Right Relations Circle of Rainy River District, a group seeking to improve relationships between First Nations and the descendants of non-aboriginal settlers, with support from the United Church of Canada, is hosting a workshop next Wednesday (April 27) to share the historic and contemporary relationship between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples in Canada.
Called the “Blanket Exercise,” the workshop was developed by KAIROS, an organization that unites Canadian churches and religious groups in a faithful ecumenical response for justice and peace.
It was designed as “an interactive way of learning the history most Canadians are never taught.”
“Relationships between indigenous and non-indigenous people sharing this land right now are at a critical juncture,” noted Matt Schaaf, a “Blanket Exercise” facilitator.
“And there have been many junctures like this, I think, through history where there is a moment that can be seized and can become a constructive moment, or it can become a moment that further divides us and separates us and creates more suffering,” he added.
“But for us to take advantage of those moments, we have to be talking to each other and that’s what the ‘Blanket Exercise’ does.”
The KAIROS website explains that during the workshop, participants take on the roles of indigenous peoples in Canada.
“Standing on blankets that represent the land, they walk through pre-contact, treaty-making, colonization, and resistance,” it notes.
“They are directed by facilitators representing a narrator [or narrators] and the European colonizers.
“Participants are drawn into the experience by reading scrolls and carrying cards which ultimately determine their outcomes.”
It adds that by engaging on an emotional and intellectual level, the “Blanket Exercise” effectively educates and increases empathy.
Ideally, the exercise is followed by a de-briefing session, in which participants have the opportunity to discuss the experience as a group.
“It’s important to have a de-briefing afterward,” stressed Janet Loney of the local Right Relations Circle.
She noted the workshop will be facilitated by Dorothy Friesen of Winnipeg and Kaaren Dannenmann of Trout Lake.
“They are both very confident and eloquent speakers so it should be really good,” Loney said, adding all are welcome to attend the free event.
She added organizers are hoping both First Nation and non-First Nation people attend.
“It works best when there is a mixture of people,” Loney remarked.
“It just gives you a really good sense of the history of First Nations’ people and what they’ve been through, as well as what’s happened with colonization.”
“The exercise will help them understand how First Nations, Inuit, and later Métis peoples lost access to their land, and what impact this has had on the people and their communities,” said Ed Bianchi, program manager with KAIROS.
“How indigenous peoples went from using and occupying all of the land we now call Canada to a situation where reserves or lands reserved for Indians amount to only one-half of one percent of Canada’s land mass,” he noted.
“It will also help them to understand how indigenous people have always resisted assimilation or being absorbed into the mainstream society, and how they continue to do so.”
Loney agreed the workshop offers a hands-on way to explore the nation-to-nation relationship between indigenous and non-indigenous people, to see how the relationship has been damaged over the years, and how they can work toward reconciliation.
“If nothing else, my hope would be that it might cut down some racism because there is a fair amount of racism around here,” said Loney, adding she wanted to offer the workshop to help everyone understand First Nation history.
“And as Kaaren said, a lot of First Nation people don’t even know their history,” she noted.
The “Blanket Exercise” runs about 30-40 minutes, followed by the de-briefing.
Loney said she would like to see the workshop expand to local schools because she feels this kind of education is needed in the district.
The workshop will get underway at 6:30 p.m. at Knox United Church in Fort Frances.