On January 14th as part of this series on First Nations Spirituality, our Social Justice team arranged for a Kairos Blanket Exercise. This was an ‘embodied exercise’ meaning we moved around in a very simple role play designed to help us not only think, but to feel as well. We moved around the carpet of blankets representing Canada in the role of Fist Nations people. We experienced ‘our’ lands being taken away, slowly at first and then more rapidly. I saw one of my daughters segregated because of European disease. We saw ‘children’ taken to residential schools and how legislation divided communities stripping or restricting rights. It became a powerful path to discover some of the feelings and histories that shape today’s First Nations peoples.
After, there was a talking circle debrief that lasted some 90 minutes as everyone had a chance to share their reactions to the activity. The responses were varied and rich, and some people were moved quite powerfully.
Our youth and some of the children participated as well. In the talking circle, many adults remarked on how inspiring it was that the young people were there that day. Driving three of those young people home (my daughters) I asked them how it was for them. Responses ranged from “OK” to “Good!”. They all found the talking part a bit long…no surprise. But then I learned that two of the girls had done the exercise before and one told me, “You know, we learn about the oppression of the First Nations people in Social Studies. None of this was new to us.”
In preparation for this sermon series, I reviewed an old history book of mine, Donald Creighton’s Dominion of the North. First published in 1944, it was still being used in high schools in the 1970’s.
There were no words like ‘First Nations’. We only learned about Indians and Metis (also called half- breeds). There was no mention of western treaties, not a word on residential schools. “Gift” blankets poisoned with small pox were left out. Stripping of rights did not merit consideration. Even the hated Indian Act is not referenced in Creighton’s work. Indians were mostly discussed in their role as fur traders and as either allies or enemies of the governments in the wars up until 1812. There is no mention of Indians after 1883, “Whose existence had been also been brought to a final crisis by the coming of settlement on a large scale.” His message: they stopped being a player in this nation after that.
Yes, my education was sadly lacking. Frankly it did not get all that much better in the early 1980’s when I took a history degree, though to be fair, I focused on the French and Indian fur trade. That all happened before most of the land grabs took place and when there was a viable economic partnership and some degree of interdependence. Even so, as a university graduate in history, I never heard of residential schools until 1986 when the United Church apologized for their participation. Appalling.
So perhaps my greatest takeaway from the blanket exercise was discovering that our children and grandchildren are learning a very different history than we did, or at least than I did. Their history contains the faults and failures of Canadian policy. Their history admits the racism and abuses. The history today’s students are learning encourages me. Their lessons are steps forward on the path to Truth and Reconciliation. That gives me hope. This path will be generations long. I am glad that those who will walk the paths in the future are learning different and more respectful lessons than I did.
See you in Church,