Battlefords residents took a step back into Canada's dark past when they came together to take part in a unique event at the Chapel Gallery — the KAIROS Blanket Exercise.
The project advances the cause of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada's work to educate people about the painful legacy of the residential school system and to learn how policies in Canada's history have forced Indigenous people to assimilate, which resulted in the theft of land, culture, language and Indigenous children.
Saskatchewan’s Treaty Commissioner Mary Culbertson said the exercise is "an opportunity to learn about shared history."
Iris Acoose served as lead facilitator and travels around the province to host the event when requested. From Sakimay First Nation, she works for the Yorkton Tribal Council in the Indian Residential Schools Resolution Health Support Program.
"For me, it's a good piece of work to do in terms of reconciliation," she said following the event.
About 45 people participated, both non-Indigenous and Indigenous. Each was assigned a role to play in the exercise that ultimately served to show how step-by-step Indigenous people's rights were stolen. The blankets represented Indigenous people's land that was gradually folded back and reduced throughout the course of the play, symbolic of the losses Indigenous people faced through history. Participants read scripts they received detailing some of the horrendous periods in Canada's history, such as The Sixties Scoop when many Indigenous children were taken from their birth families and placed in non-Indigenous families as forced assimilation.
Following, participants gathered in a sharing circle to say what they learned. Some said they developed more empathy for Indigenous people facing challenges today. Others said it was a learning experience. One of the event facilitators said he hoped Indigenous people have gained more allies among those who took part.
Acoose said getting people to sit down together, listen to one another and share their feelings is progress.
"More importantly, I would like to know what they are going to do with all that," she said. "You experience that and you gain some knowledge; you gain some compassion for people. You see how things were done in the past and the mistakes that were made. What are we going to do in the future to move forward?"
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