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Letters from Friends

Centennial Christian School in Terrace recently participated in the KAIROS Blanket Exercise.  The BC First Peoples Grade 11/12 class wrote letters to their friends afterwards reflecting on their experiences.  Consider yourself a friend and read these three thoughtful reflections.

Dear Friend,

Today we did an exercise called “The KAIROS  Blanket Exercise” for National Truth and Reconciliation Day. The purpose of this exercise is to give physical representation of what happened to First Nations peoples when Europeans came to Canada. I wasn’t fully sure what to expect when my teachers asked that we all bring a small blanket to school with us this morning, but I definitely did not expect this exercise to be as informative and impactful as it was. It started with us all bringing our chairs (and blankets) into the gym and arranging them into a big circle. We were then told to take our shoes off and lay all our blankets down in the middle of the circle, connecting them together; this symbolized the land before Europeans came. We walked and mingled freely on the blankets. Then one of the two speakers who represented the Europeans began to fold the blankets (and occasionally removing blankets altogether) making the “land” smaller. After making the “land” considerably smaller, the second speaker (who represented the voice of Indigenous people) began to go through different events, with each event, the first speaker removed more and more blankets as students sat back into the circle, representing lives being taken/lost. 

I learned a lot through this exercise. I learned about how Europeans gave a false sense of security and peace that they slowly took away by taking land. I learned about tuberculosis which was given to First Peoples groups by Europeans with the intention of wiping out people. I learned about the stereotypes Europeans/Canadians created; stereotypes that Indigenous people were uncivilized. I learned about how traditions were stripped away and banned. I learned about the status that was taken from Indigenous people to live the lives they wanted. I learned about the lives that were lost fighting for land, family, and traditions. I learned about children who were stolen from their families and put into residential schools where countless lives were damaged and even lost. I learned about children who were taken from their parents and put into foster care for no reason. I learned about those who survived, those fought, and those who are still fighting; fighting to bring back the traditions and culture of First Nations people in Canada.

This exercise provided a physical representation of so many things that are so difficult to grasp from simply reading from textbooks. It opened my eyes to the mistreatment of Indigenous people both in the past, and in the present. This exercise showed me how many relationships are damaged and made me want to learn more about how I can do my part to heal broken relationships. This exercise made me want to learn more. I would recommend that you take part in the KAIROS Blanket Exercise for these reasons.

Your Friend 

Dear Friend, 

Today at school we participated in the KAIROS Blanket Exercise, an activity using Indigenous methodologies to represent the horrific trauma and effects caused by colonization. We began as a whole community roaming freely across the different blankets, exploring the land that was fully connected. By the end, there was no longer a connected oval of blankets, but rather multiple mangled piles of blankets, fully separate from one another.

Through the KAIROS Blanket Exercise, it was clear that those actions still affect people today, and that reparations and reconciliation must be made. This activity was very interesting for another reason, it educated myself and many others about First People’s history. Through the blanket exercise, I learned that residential schools were still largely operating when my parents were in school, which was very eye-opening. The last residential school was closed in 1996, which has stuck with me since the exercise, that was so recent, how could people allow these institutions to operate?

Hearing an emotional testimony from an indigenous woman who was affected and traumatized by these events was saddening, yet insightful, and also changed how I viewed the situation. This exercise has truly shifted my perspective on this matter, it opened my eyes to pure trauma, horror, and abuse that Indigenous people had to face. Moving forward, my understanding of colonization has truly changed, and I will never be able to understand how grown adults segregated children in order to mentally, physically, and sexually abuse them. I cannot understand how taking away one’s culture could somehow seem just to anyone. There was no justice, there was no fairness, and there was absolutely no mercy.

This exercise shifted my understanding, perspective, and broke my heart. It was beyond impactful, and I suggest that you participate in it as well. I believe that this exercise will impact you more than you think it will, and it is crucial to understand the truth of what happened and how it affected others, in order to truly reconcile.

Your Friend 

Dear Friend,

Today I had a profound experience, I participated in the KAIROS Blanket Exercise. It was a time of reflection, learning and powerful testimony. This exercise taught me about how much we have lost, and how strong Indigenous people have been to hold on to what is left. The first peoples of Newfoundland are gone now, forever, only their art and physical artifacts remain, the language and people are gone. 

I learned that residential schools only closed their doors when my parents were in high school, harming and traumatizing children up until they were forced to stop. I learned about how complicated the matter of status can be, in some cases it was a case of giving up the life you want or losing your status as an Indigenous person. It was a choice between losing your identity or staying out of the way on a reserve given to you by the settlers. I learned so much, but I will never be able to fully understand.

This changed my perspective and opinion moving forward by making me more aware of the privilege I wear with me every day. I am reaping the benefits of years of cultural oppression. The more I become aware of that, the more I can humble myself, and try to use my inherent “step up in life” to help others. I am going to move into the future knowing that I have a lot to learn, and trying to listen to the truth being told at every opportunity I am presented with. 

I strongly encourage you to take the opportunity to do this KAIROS Blanket Exercise if it is ever available to you. Tears were shed, frustration was felt, but I left with a sense of hope. Hope for the future of Turtle Island, hope for the relationship between Indigenous people and those of us who came from elsewhere, but now call Canada home. You will learn so much from this including how to listen, an undervalued ability. Coming to this exercise you can take as little or as much as you want from it, but I encourage you, if you participate, to try and absorb as much information as possible. Together we can build a better future without the deception and hurt used in the past.

Your friend

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