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Island Pacific School students participate in the blanket exercise. “Getting to the truth was hard, but getting to reconciliation will be harder. It requires that the paternalistic and racist foundations of the residential school system be rejected as the basis for an ongoing relationship.

“Reconciliation requires that a new vision, based on a commitment to mutual respect, be developed.

“It also requires an understanding that the most harmful impacts of residential schools have been the loss of pride and self-respect of Aboriginal people, and the lack of respect that non-Aboriginal people have been raised to have for their Aboriginal neighbours. Reconciliation is not an Aboriginal problem; it is a Canadian one.” – Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) report, 2015

Explaining centuries of colonialism to an elementary school student isn’t a simple task. But some blankets and a script can help to explain Canada’s long-shrouded history.

Kairos Canada, with input from Indigenous Elders and educators, created the Blanket Exercise in 1996, in response to the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples report. Facilitators read from a script and over an hour and a half, they guide participants through the 500 years of history in Canada – pre-contact, treaty-making, colonization and resistance. It has since been updated to include information from the comprehensive Truth and Reconciliation Commission report of 2015, which examined the history and impact of residential schools in Canada and marked a suggested path forward (94 calls to action.)

Island Pacific School’s grade six class explained to the Undercurrent how the Blanket Exercise works and their reactions, having just done it the day before.

“You put together all the blankets and it represents Turtle Island,” said Neve.

“Whatever blanket you’re on, it’s like your culture’s land and you represent different First Nations and that land is your land and you love it very much and then you’re pushed off of it,” said Nikki. “You get kicked off onto reserves.”

“And the people come and fold up your blanket to take away your land to show how the Europeans did it,” explained Max. Adding that everyone was given cards to represent their role in the exercise. “If you have a yellow card you go to residential school.”

“Canada denied the right to participate fully in Canadian political, economic, and social life to those Aboriginal people who refused to abandon their Aboriginal identity.

“Canada outlawed Aboriginal spiritual practices, jailed Aboriginal spiritual leaders, and confiscated sacred objects.

“And, Canada separated children from their parents, sending them to residential schools. This was done not to educate them, but primarily to break their link to their culture and identity.” – TRC

“If you got a yellow card with an x on it, it means you got to go back home, but then all the people who are still on the blanket of the residential school turn their backs on you to show how the ones who were allowed to return were isolated after being able to head home,” said Hannah.

“It was really sad to see. We started with 72 students and only three remained at the end,” said Lucy. “It was crazy. Some people died from hunger, smallpox, or they just got shot by the Europeans, or they didn’t survive residential schools, and it was really just sad to see.”

The federal government has estimated that at least 150,000 First Nation, Métis, and Inuit students passed through the [residential school] system. – TRC

“Canada is more evil than I thought,” said Josh.“When [our teacher] was in school, they didn’t really talk about it,” said Jenny.“It was so crazy to see that and to see what happened,” […]

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