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Blanket exercise aims to be a tool in reconciliation

By Melissa Schilz, Postmedia Network

Tracey George (left), Coun. Liz Welsh, Richard Poore, Dr. Christy R. Bressette, Elder Pauline Williams, Beverly Bressette and Gary Allen worked together to bring the KAIROS blanket exercise to Petrolia. Melissa Schilz/Postmedia Network

Tracey George (left), Coun. Liz Welsh, Richard Poore, Dr. Christy R. Bressette, Elder Pauline Williams, Beverly Bressette and Gary Allen worked together to bring the KAIROS blanket exercise to Petrolia. Melissa Schilz/Postmedia Network

Dr. Christy Bressette of Kettle and Stony Point was in Petrolia last week to share 500 years of Indigenous history in about an hour, and the moving workshop left participants feeling both overwhelmed and motivated to foster change in their communities.

The KAIROS blanket exercise is an educational tool that places participants in the shoes of Indigenous people. Participants begin on Turtle Island, known as North America, roaming freely and enjoying a calm and quiet life, and Bressette and her narrators take the participants through the ages, from death and disease to the establishment of residential schools across the country.

Bressette said the exercise aims to be a tool of both education and reconciliation. The learning that takes place among those participating can cause emotional turmoil and a raw sense of sadness. For some people, it’s the first time they’ve heard this part of Canada’s past, and Bressette said by incorporating a local aspect, it brings a deeper meaning in the engagement process.

“When I first was exposed to the workshop, I really enjoyed it,” she said. “I saw an opportunity to tailor the workshop to make it specific to our area of southwestern Ontario and applicable to our people here… local context makes it all the more effective.”

Bressette said bringing this education to people is important in connecting Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations. The whole point of having a workshop like this is to help people understand the history and events, as well as the issues that First Nations people still face today.

“There’s more sympathy, there’s more awareness and there’s more compassion…and ultimately having more people be willing to reconcile with Indigenous people for the good of our country,” she said.

When it comes to Canadian history, Bressette said they want to fill in the gaps for people, because for many years, a lot was being glanced over. More importantly, she wants people to learn compassion and unlearn a sense of prejudice that has long been instilled in a portion of our population.

“When I grew up, the story of our people was largely absent from the stories we learned in history,” she said. “We want to help to raise the awareness of the contributions of Indigenous peoples in a positive way.”

Bressette said the blanket exercise has been a successful tool in rebuilding relationships between communities; it doesn’t blame or accuse, rather it tells the story in a gentle but effective manner that often leaves people in tears. Bressette said bringing the information to the forefront in an unbiased way helps people come to their own individual conclusions.

And with Canada 150 celebrations taking the spotlight this year, Bressette said it’s more important than ever to raise awareness.

“A lot of people don’t know… when they hear Indigenous people expressing concerns about that, it’s not much of a celebration if Canada continues to celebrate its colonization of our

country and our people,” she said. “It’s a missed opportunity I think to only focus on 150 years, especially when Indigenous people have been here since time immemorial and really welcomed the newcomers.”

The interactive exercise has been taken across the country by KAIROS Canada to schools and communities, and was originally developed as a response to the 1996 report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, which called for more education on Canadian Indigenous history.

“When you’re invited to see something from someone else’s perspective, it really changes how you interpret issues,” she said. “You can understand empathetically, with your heart… you look at situations differently.”

Bressette said when it comes to reconciliation, allowing Indigenous populations to be a part of the process is what will ultimately lead to success. She said historically, solutions have been forced upon them as a people, but it’s refreshing to see they are being recognized for who they are, and being encouraged to bring forth ideas towards healing.

“That whole approach has really been turned on its head,” she said. “Involving Indigenous people and deriving solutions that work best for them… that are informed by Indigenous ways of thinking are really key… it’s such an exciting time that we live in right now and I look to the future with optimism and hope.”