The Blanket Exercise & Reconciliation Learning
In 2016 College Park Covenant Church (Saskatoon) received a Trellis grant for a guided event they called “Peacemaking in the Neighbourhood: The Blanket Exercise”, to encourage understanding and reconciliation between indigenous and non-indigenous Canadians as a tangible expression of following Jesus. The grant also helped them collect a reading library and start a book club on racial reconciliation in our Canadian context. This hands-on initiative was intended to addresses a topic that is very much on the public stage right now but can be difficult for churches to engage. A similar event was held at the ECCC AGM in Chestermere.
Jess Lefebvre (of Kensington Commons Church) and Alison Lefebvre, both trained facilitators in the KAIROS Blanket Exercise, led about 40 people from College Park Covenant through the experience on the morning of Feb 4, 2017. They were joined by Elder Eileen Thomas who began the time by leading a smudging prayer ceremony.
The KAIROS Blanket Exercise is an interactive learning experience that teaches the history of Canada from an Indigenous rights perspective we’re rarely taught, covering over 500 years of history in a one and a half hour participatory workshop. College Park participants took on the roles of Indigenous peoples in Canada. Standing on blankets that represent the land, they walked through pre-contact, treaty-making, colonization and resistance. They were directed by the facilitators who acted as narrators and represented European colonizers. Participants were drawn into the experience by reading quotes and carrying numbered cards which ultimately determined their outcomes.
Describing their experience, grant applicants Paul and Sharon Benson write, “We learned how a multi-sensory narrative experience has such an incredible impact. It is so much more than [hearing] words alone. One of our women had been handed some baby moccasins which represented her children. As the exercise went on, in the story, the government authorities took away the woman’s moccasins. She was weeping and so were many of us in the room. This is so much more transformational than hearing about the ‘60’s scoop’. The more we can do multi-sensory experiences to learn as a community, the better. Information from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission needs to move from head to heart. This is part of what we are seeing happening. It was also very powerful to experience the blanket exercise together with one another in our church. We knew the woman who had her baby taken away.”
College Park concluded the Blanket Exercise with a traditional sharing circle, in which each person took a turn sharing their own experience with the whole group. Then they ate lunch together. The Reconciliation Book Club has been meeting since April 2017 and participants are now in the midst of reading their fourth book on truth and reconciliation between Indigenous and ‘settler’ peoples in Canada.
The Bensons report, “We anticipated this initiative would help us grow as disciples in two ways: first, in becoming more Christlike in our love and generosity of spirit toward other people; second, in learning how to build strong, unified relationships with people who are different than us. We need ongoing opportunities for this kind of transformational learning. We need repeated experience to reinforce and change.”
Another participant reflected that, “Experiencing the stories of ‘the others’ as if their stories were our own, using with our imaginations and our bodies physically in space, broke down the ‘us and them’ categories that seem so persistent in my assumptions. Walking through the Blanket Exercise together with my church family has ignited a longing in me to be part of the healing and building of shalom between Indigenous peoples and ‘settlers’ in Canada. Reading with the book club has further opened my eyes to what many Indigenous people experience in Canada right now. I used to be concerned about the issue. Now it’s personal, and Jesus has called me to be part of the restoration process in some way.”
The Bensons add that, “We have built some new relationships – with Shari Russell (Salvation Army Indigenous ministries director), Alison & Jess Lefebvre, and another new Métis friend named Roberta who will continue to teach us.” [In photo at right: Kirsten Waldschmidt, pastor of CPCC, Alison Lefebvre, Elder Eileen Thomas & Jess Lefebvre.]
The biggest strength of the Blanket Exercise, according to the Bensons, was “opening us to seeing the bigger story of our history and the bigger story of people’s lives around us.”
They highly recommend this experience for every Covenant church community.
Learn more about the KAIROS Blanket Exercise at: https://www.kairosblanketexercise.org/about/