I am standing on a blanket. This blanket is one of six spread out on the floor, each one touching the next. They represent Turtle Island, or North America as it’s called today.
I am standing on this blanket as a participant in the Kairos Blanket Exercise. I am excited to begin this learning journey. I am unaware of the power of the next two hours in front of me.
Take up all the space of the blankets the facilitator urges us. Claim your land.
There are about 30 of us standing on the blankets. We all work for Inn from the Cold, the family emergency shelter where I work.
Most of us are non-Indigenous. Some are immigrants. Others born on Canadian soil of ‘settler’ families.
And the story begins.
For the next two hours we become more and more cramped on the blankets as one blanket after another disappears as do some of the participants.
“You are a child who was sent to Residential School,” the facilitator tells one of my co-workers. And they move off the blanket to stand at the edge of the circle.
“Your child was taken from your arms,” a woman is told who is holding a doll. And the facilitator grabs the doll from the woman’s arms and puts it on the floor at the edge of the circle.
“You were swept up in the 60s scoop,” another participant is told and they too join the others standing outside the circle.
Smallpox. Other diseases. Poor nutrition. Suicide. Land appropriation. Adoption. Assimilation. Slowly people disappear from the constantly reducing area the blankets cover until only a handful of us remain on a tiny blanket in the middle of the room.
“You are the survivors,” we are told.
I do not want to cheer. I do not want to clap. I want only to cry.
So much carnage. So much loss. So much pain.
“We do not do this exercise to make people feel guilty, or to make them sad or angry. We do it to raise awareness. To educate. To share the story of Canada through an Indigenous lens,” the facilitator tells us.
It is a story not told in schools. Or text books. Or movies.
It is a story of a nation’s past where fairness, equity, freedom of all people was not for everyone, just the civilized. Indigenous Peoples were not considered civilized. They were deemed savages.
It is a story of the stealing away of an entire people’s lands, dignity, pride, way of life. Of forcing new culture over an existing one in order to make them more like us. To make them seem less different. Unique. Connected to one another.
It is told in a way that makes it possible to understand why, ‘getting over it’ is not so easy, not so possible.
I am familiar with it. I have read the Truth and Reconciliation recommendations. Participated in other Indigenous learning circles. I have worked in this sector for over 12 years. In this sector, unlike on Turtle Island, Indigenous Peoples are over-represented.
They carry the scars, the wounds, the trauma of a past where their way of life and who they were was deemed unfit by those who usurped power and claimed a land as their own, even though it was already claimed.
This is my country.
It is the land upon which I was born. On which I live today.
We call it Canada.
Once upon a time, it was called Turtle Island.
Our history is not a clean white page in a book unmarred by trauma or dark deeds. It is not a history of treating everyone with dignity, fairness, respect, even though that is the history we’d like to tell.
We have this shared story of our past which we must be willing to talk about, to understand so that we can move beyond the things we don’t want to see, to create a country we do want to have, together. As one people.
A country where the past is not a shadow marred by the darkness of what was done. It is a place where all people’s know, no matter their place in the past, today we are all of one land, one country, one humanity, and one shared story.
“Meegwetch” (Thank you in the language of the Haudensaunee, the Peoples of the traditional territory upon which I was born).