“Nothing changes until people decide to do the things they must, in order to bring about peace.”
― Shannon L. Alder
To me, this quote by Shannon Alder speaks to the nature of KAIROS Blanket Exercise. It was conceived and implemented by 10 Canadian religions who believed the time had come to right the wrongs that had been done to First Nations People, often in their name, and so they set about to tell the truth of Colonization and oppression. There are three main reasons that I like this activity.
1. It condenses 600 years of history
There are no pulling of the punches here either. It plainly speaks to the colonization of Turtle Island through papal bulls, disease, war, reneged agreements, residential school, and so much more.
2. It creates a tangible experience
As the participants stand on the blankets representing Turtle Island, they are lead to picture this land they depend on for life, that they love. They then watch as each measure taken erodes their space, their ability to live as they have, their culture, and often their lives. Because it is visual, active and cooperative the participants are enmeshed in the experience.
3. It isn’t about blame
One sure fire way to have people turn off their ears is to come at them with anger and blame. This exercise allows the participants to understand what occurred in history, so they can then see the systemic problems it has created. No one leaves feeling like they were responsible for residential school. They leave with a better idea of what occurred, why it matters, and a feeling of intrinsic responsibility for their own actions today.
This activity was initially designed for non-native people to help them understand the years of systemic undermining that has occurred to First Nations people. However, I have participated and lead a number of these exercises that included significant Aboriginal presence. It is always different depending on the people, the day, and the support. However I would put out three words of caution when preparing the lesson.
“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.”
― Charles Dickens
1. Give advance notice of the content to your participants
Honestly, participants should always be given a heads up as to what the content is. However, in this case it is imperative that people of Aboriginal descent be forewarned about the content. Especially if they are of an age where they may have been a residential school survivor. I have seen first hand the devastation it can bring up when the participant is surprised by the content. It is unfair to force people who have been traumatized to open this painful box in front of others.
2. Have support on hand
Regardless of whether the participants are Aboriginal or not this exercise is likely to bring up strong emotions. Therefore, it is important that you are prepared to help anyone who may have a powerful reaction. In our area we have a group that our friendship center put us in touch with who have councilors happy to attend. This is a lucky blessing you may not have access to, call around though and see what is available. Elders, school councilors, public health nurses, or simply empathetic adults in your facility willing to attend means you don’t have to worry if someone leaves due to emotional pain.
3. Prepare closing activities
It goes without saying that you would never finish an activity this poignant by simply having the participants get up and leave. However, I will say it anyway. Prepare activities to reflect, regroup, and regain. Below I will barely scratch the surface of what you can do to close this exercise.
- Reflect: What occurred for you? What did you learn? Do a whip around and have everyone share one word to describe their feelings about the exercises. Do a think, pair, share, and ask for volunteers to share their partners thoughts in a popcorn format. Have everyone write a single sentence on a sticky note that describes this event for them. Get them to stick it to the wall then do a gallery walk where everyone takes a few minutes to read the sentences. After this activity you can go in many directions.
- Regroup: What do you wonder? What value could this have? Allow the participants to ask honest open questions. Especially if your participants are students. Ignorance is not bliss, it’s just ignorance, but who will these people ask if not you? For this reason be prepared and open to answering any questions that may come up after the exercise, and if you do not know the answer simple admit you are unsure and find a way to look it up. There are two excellent resources to prepare you ahead, or look up on the spot. One is First Nation 101, which I have done a book review for earlier. It clearly addresses controversial subject matters, and the other is a fabulous website I have linked here.
Apihtawikosisan This is an incredible resource for so many reasons, just one of which is a link called “Indigenous Issues 101” which debunks myths and misunderstandings. There are a boat load of incredible activities, advice, and top myths and misunderstandings. I highly recommend this blog, and hope you take an opportunity to visit it.
Please feel free to ask any questions or add your own ideas and experiences.