Blanket Exercise – White Tears
In my last very irregular post I said I wasn’t a fan of the Kairos blanket exercise. I am a fan of Kairos and my brief time as an Amnesty International Intern I worked closely with the now ED, on a project that would eventually become #MMIW. Kairos has a difficult road that it navigates well. They work with Churches on a number of Social Justice issues, they navigate the complexity that the churches the work for may have also caused some of those issues they work on.
So this is critic of the Blanket exercise not the Organization. I wanted to really like the exercise, I wanted an experiential game or whatever to have students understand the Indigenous experience. However, the Blanket Exercise is an experience of Colonization.
With the best of intensions I had myself and my Indigenous staff members and allies be trained to be trainers on the exercise. For those of you who haven’t experienced the exercise it has all participants standing on blankets that are touching on the floor, representative of Canada. There are a few paragraphs on life pre-contact but like all good history books the meat of the exercise happens when the white people come. Throughout the exercise, the numbers of people standing on the blankets reduces matching various traumatic historical events and the blankets are folded representing the reduction of land Indigenous people are on.
At one point one of my staff members had his blanket folded in half and he kicked the fold back stating it was the Wiky resistence. He is a member of Wiikwemkoong First Nation, actually most of my staff are, Wiky is short for Wiikwemkoong. The whole exercise my staff and myself were laughing, eye rolling and making jokes. The trainer of the exercise said it was the strangest experience she has had. I asked if she had done the exercise with only Indigenous people and she hadn’t.
As Indigenous people all of these things were done to us. We know about Residential Schools, MMIW, treaties, sixties scoop, disease, suicide, drinking water, addictions and mental health etc, etc, etc.. Interestingly, we are still here. My staff used black humour and laughed a lot and rolled our eyes. People might see that as a coping mechanism, and it might be, but when we debriefed we said this exercise didn’t talk about us, it was about settlers.
I have often heard people’s reaction to the exercise as them crying and feeling bad. I am blown away that you have to be shown on blankets what happened to Indigenous people in 2018. I am even more surprised that this is how we have to teach settlers via these blankets to show empathy. Equating what happened to Indigenous people to standing on blankets is a bit much.
I will go one further, I know that this is an exercise of colonization because I have done A LOT of presentations and never done it this way. I have seen a lot of presentations done by Indigenous people and organizations that were cross cultural training none were like this. Simply why would we want to impose Colonization on anyone. Why would we only focus on when the colonizers some, and finally we are in the period of Indigenous Resurgence, lets celebrate it. We need to celebrate our victories. I tell people I am proud to be an Indian. After multiple attempts to completely wipe out the Indian race we are still here and thriving.
Is it a bad exercise? No. Do many Indigenous people use it endorse it? Yes. Could it be traumatic for Indigenous people to engage in? Yes.
Should you use it know that the exercise you are engaging in is a Settler exercise. An exercise, maybe even a training manual for Colonization.