(Before reading, please note: This post has been written, torn apart, deleted & re-visited multiple times since the Blanket Exercise occurred last Wednesday. The rawness & realness of said experience was challenging to wrap my mind around, let alone even begin unpacking it… words continue to escape me as I sort through my thoughts and emotions in an effort to authentically reflect. The following excerpt provides insight into some of my disseminated thoughts regarding the Blanket Exercise.)
Palms drenched in sweat; a knot so twisted and wretched within my stomach. Emotion has consumed me, so much so that I can barely speak. Sadness, anger, embarrassment; empathy, inspiration, hope. Upon entering the space this morning to partake in the Blanket Exercise, I was not expecting (or prepared) to embody this narrative – feeling the emotion, real and raw, arising at the surface.
Before: A small group of individuals gathered together for this workshop led by Dr. Shauneen Pete and Dr. Michael Cappello. The room was quiet as everyone began to absorb the words spoken; the space was calm and collected – yet I could feel the fear beginning to present itself, I was hopeful that I could keep my emotions in check (I failed miserably at this FYI. There is something about emotional vulnerability that is both inspiring and fearful… the latter was a self-constructed barrier ever present in my mind throughout the entire exercise…). The purpose of the workshop is to “help participants understand how colonization of the land we now know as Canada has impacted the people who lived here long before settlers arrived…exploring the nation-to-nation relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada, how this relationship has been damaged over the years, and how they can work toward reconciliation.” Powerful.
During: I felt as though I was witnessing the depletion of rights, identity and relationships (with self, others and the land) with each fold of the blankets. Disempowerment, assimilation, cultural genocide; with each fold I felt as though I was being slapped in the face and punched in the gut at the same time – evident, real and heartbreaking. It was uplifting to view our collective history from a refreshing perspective, one not reflective of the dominant narrative that we hear all too often (I think about all of the opportunities provided for learning and growth on behalf of Indigenous individuals… I think about the effort on their part to mend relationships and move forward together… I am thankful for the continual offering of opportunities such as the Blanket Exercise, all in ways [and spaces] that feel safe… It is comforting to know that I can explore discomforting narratives in a judgment-free manner where I am invited to take risks… I am aware of the privileged nature of my previous thoughts in lines above; this is still a fairly new [vulnerable] territory for myself…).
After: I believe that the sick feeling I continue to experience when exploring discomforting narratives resonates strongly with guilt. However, harbouring guilt is not productive; yes we must acknowledge that the guilt exists, but then we must shift this energy to act on our responsibilities (call to action). Aside from negativity and pessimism, this experience gave me a glimmer of immense hope – as each corner of the blanket began to unfold, I felt empowered…hopeful for the future. I try to hold the images of said hopefulness in my heart and mind. The power behind debriefing and allowing individuals to emotionally and mentally unpack the experience is vital; I am actually unsure as to whether or not I would have been able to walk away from the experience and process my thoughts and emotions in a constructive way otherwise. The potential learning opportunities the Blanket Exercise & debriefing opens up for us as classroom teachers is so significant – walking alongside students as we navigate through this narrative is impactful, but providing students an opportunity to debrief (and further unpack) afterwards immensely amplifies the powerful nature of this essential experience.
Future: I have been asked to participate in the facilitation of the Blanket Exercise with an inspiring group of middle years students and educators during the Treaty Four Days gatherings taking place on the Treaty Four Grounds in Fort Qu’Appelle, Saskatchewan. I can only imagine that this opportunity will be powerful beyond measure and I could not be more thankful to be a part of it. Experiences such as the Blanket Exercise cannot simply be done once, mastered and disposed of; each time I immerse myself in the teachings of the narrative, I am sure to come to new understandings. Diverse participants, bringing diverse perspectives to the table each time – pushing me to continuously revisit places of discomfort. If I am being honest, it truly amazes me how much I am learning (and unlearning) on a daily basis. Whether intentional or not, I always seem to find myself amidst critical conversations that lead to reflection and further acquisition of knowledge. I owe said daily experiences to the thoughtful, inspiring individuals whom surround me as I walk this journey. My mind cannot even begin to imagine where I would be without individuals who exude constant passion, love and kindness. Let me just take a moment right here to think about all of these individuals and the ways in which they have forever changed my life… wow.
As I prepare for tomorrow, right now, I am thinking about how the teachings of the Blanket Exercise are interwoven with the teachings of reconciliation. The words of National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Shawn A-in-chut Atleo resonate strongly here: when describing his late grandmother’s thoughts regarding reconciliation he states, “she found that encouraging, because it’s the first step, actually seeing one another, having the silence broken and the stories starting to be told…. I think that’s where it begins, isn’t it? Between us as individuals sharing the stories from so many different perspectives so that we can understand” (http://www.trc.ca/websites/trcinstitution/File/2015/Honouring_the_Truth_Reconciling_for_the_Future_July_23_2015.pdf). I really believe that reconciliation does not involve me learning/reading something & teaching it to someone else (as some might say, doing the work of a good white person); it is more than that. Reconciliation is about learning to walk alongside one another, walking together in good ways. I believe the teachings of the Blanket Exercise will bring us together tomorrow, as one – learning, thinking, feeling, supporting and understanding one another. For now though, these thoughts are to be continued…