By ISABELLA BOURQUE
The Workshops in Building Capacity for Reconciliation focus on educating the public about Indigenous history and what life was like for many people when colonization started. In participating in these workshops, we recognize the truths that happened to Indigenous peoples because of colonization, as well as the outcomes from the many horrific experiences they faced. In particular, on Sept 27th, we focused on residential schools and the realities for the many families who went through it.
For this first workshop, we started with the KAIROS Blanket Exercise. Here, all of the participants stood on various blankets throughout the room to represent Turtle Island, the world where Indigenous peoples from all over lived before colonization. In the exercise, we went through a timeline of traumatic events from the beginning of colonization onward. As the exercise went on, the blankets were slowly taken away to represent the land that was being stolen from Indigenous people, so much so that by the end of it, many of us were squished right up to one another from the lack of land there was to “live” on. Throughout this exercise we were also given scrolls of documents from these events to read aloud, as well as other props like tiny felt blankets and necklaces with black hearts. These props represented those who had been taken from their families or died at residential schools, among other circumstances. The physical act of taking part in this exercise made these events so real and in your face that you couldn’t ignore it, even if you wanted to.
I think this is a big thing for people who don’t want to believe in our history, or who choose to look past it and ignore it. If you are face-to-face with real, raw facts for 3 hours and you fully participate in the workshop, you have no choice but to confront your lack of knowledge and accept the truth. The facilitators of this workshop are a family of 3 generations, including an Elder who is a survivor of residential school. We got to hear stories of real people, including some very young children who had to go through devastating things, via letters they had actually written about their experiences. The whole evening was very emotional for the participants and opened many people’s eyes to a big part of Canada’s history.
After the workshop, many of the participants felt frustrated and angry with this new knowledge. They were heartbroken that their government would do such terrible things. There were many who were stunned that, in those 3 hours, they learned more about Indigenous history and residential schools than they had ever learned in their whole lives. Several participants expressed that their own schools never taught them much, if anything at all, about Canada’s treatment of Indigenous peoples. Many were sad and felt sympathy for the families who had to go through such trauma. And most were filled with appreciation and hope that, moving forward and with more education to come, there would be healing for Indigenous peoples and a push forward in reconciliation with hope for future generations to take back their identity and culture, never to be without it again.