It’s not often you have the opportunity to walk in someone else’s shoes. But the KAIROS* Blanket Exercise lets you do exactly that.
On March 13, almost 50 people from across the province gathered at St. Paul’s Hospital in Saskatoon to participate in a KAIROS Blanket Exercise, designed to teach the history of Canada from the perspective of Indigenous Peoples. Those in attendance included members from the Saskatchewan Health Authority’s Executive Leadership Team, physicians, nurses, outreach co-ordinators, volunteers, administrators and more.
The purpose behind the KAIROS Blanket Exercise is to place participants in the shoes of Indigenous Peoples in Canada from the time of pre-contact with Europeans to present day.
“The Blanket Exercise offers an opportunity to view history through the lens of those whose experience is different from what many of us were traditionally taught in our education as children,” said Vice President Quality, Safety and Strategy Beth Vachon, a recent participant in the exercise. “It is only through shared understanding and truthful acknowledgement that we as a health care system can begin our journey of reconciliation, trust and respect for all.”
The exercise begins with all participants standing on the many connected blankets spread out across the floor. The blankets represent the land and the connections Indigenous Peoples had with it and each other. The participants are encouraged to walk along the blankets and explore, just as Indigenous Peoples did at the time of pre-contact. One of the facilitators takes on the role of the narrator, explaining the history of Indigenous Peoples, while another facilitator has the role of a European.
As the European wanders among the people walking across the blankets, the number of participants begins to diminish as they are asked to leave for many reasons. Some leave because they die from diseases like small pox or from conflicts. Others are forced to leave because they lose their First Nations status due to marriage or government policies designed to limit resistance. Once outside the community of the blanket, the participants are not allowed to return.
“The first time I experienced this I got a white card (died from disease) and had to sit and watch,” says Julie Haubrich, a consultant with Representative Workforce in Saskatoon, and a blanket exercise facilitator. “I was struck by how many people had to watch what was happening from the outside, powerless to do anything.”
When the story approaches the 20th Century, even more participants are asked to leave the blankets. These departures represent the Indigenous children who were forced into Residential Schools or were taken from their families, placed into foster homes and eventually adopted. The few participants left wander in smaller and smaller circles as the land, the blankets they are walking on, are either removed when they are “claimed” by the government or forcibly moved apart.
As the connections between people and their freedom to move are quickly lost, the mood in the room becomes distinctly solemn.
At the end of the narration the participants are once again in the present day. Only a handful of people remain on tiny blanket edges, most separated from each other. A moment of silence is observed before everyone returns to their original seats in the circle. It is a sharing circle, and each participant is encouraged to share their experience in a place of shared trust. There are tears, laughter and a lot of sincere thank yous shared among the participants.
“I would highly recommend participating in a Blanket Exercise as part of your own personal commitment to truth and reconciliation,” Vachon adds.
The Saskatchewan Health Authority offers this exercise as part of its commitment to the
Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) process. Hundreds of staff from across the province have already taken part in the exercise and the demand for more sessions continues to grow.
KAIROS – 10 churches and religious organizations working together in faithful action for ecological justice and human rights.