March 14, 2018
On Saturday, January 28, our WUSC students, friends, and family attended a Blanket Exercise that was hosted by the group “oski-pimohtahtamwak otayisīniwiwaw” (Nehiyawak) or “They are into their new journey to knowledge”(English). We were so lucky and honoured to have these students come to our school and deliver such an impactful exercise.
For those unfamiliar with the term “Blanket Exercise”, as many of us were, my best description would be a virtual reality tour of Canada’s history through an Indigenous lens. The blankets put on the floor represent the land that is Turtle Island and we represent some of the Indigenous peoples who were here prior to colonization. The students led the exercise with a backstory and we each received scrolls from which we took turns reading from. In these scrolls, various Indigenous (and non-Indigenous) voices were featured. Some scrolls instructed us that disease had hurt our people, or that residential schools removed children from our homes. In response, some of us were asked to leave the blankets or their children, symbolized as dolls, were taken away (see attached image). In the meantime you’ll see that the blankets that once stretched across the floor became smaller and smaller.
WUSC Regina is a unique group in that its members come from all over the globe and many were refugee students with unique experiences and stories that parallel some of the ones we heard in the Blanket Exercise. At the end of the exercise, we were each able to reflect on the experience in a talking circle. I think the best word I could think to describe the atmosphere would be solemn. There was something that we each took from the experience and connected to. I was really moved by the passion and dedication to understanding that our group members showed. Nonetheless, I think we also felt empowered knowing that we could make a difference and now had a better understanding of the First Nations’ experience.
When I look back on this experience one message that continues to stand out for me is that as a society, we need to change our dialogue. We will only be able to achieve Truth and Reconciliation when we change the way we talk about Indigenous peoples and the challenges they face. In particular, this means changing our conversations behind closed doors. Yes, some First Nations communities experience high rates of alcoholism and drug abuse and overrepresentation in foster care, but there are many factors that have contributed to this. We can only be successful as a society when all individuals- both indigenous and non-indigenous- have a desire to improve relationships and a willingness to work together to find attainable solutions.
Overall, I would like to thank oski-pimohtahtamwak otayisīniwiwaw once again for visiting us. I hope that they will continue to do this work and will go to elementary schools in the future so that younger generations can also have this experience. It’s much more impactful being able to “get involved” in history than simply reading about it. Once again we are reminded that we are all treaty people.