This week at Meet Me @ the Bell Tower, we had an event called the Blanket Exercise. It was presented by the Christian Reformed Centre for Public Dialogue and KAIROS – Winnipeg Chapter was in partnership with the Indigenous Family Centre. We knew that the topic was colonization and were prepared to deal with a heavy topic, one we deal with on a regular basis but this time we were experiencing a new activity. We shared some information online before the event, but many people do not check our Facebook page and simply come to the Bell Tower each week to visit with the regulars (Bell Tower family), ring the bell and belong. This week we were happy to welcome many new guests to the bell tower as you can see in the group photo of the night (that we took once we went back inside) [another AYO Shout out to Greg Littlejohn, our resident photographer for capturing the below image]
It was a pretty intense exercise. Many people learned a lot about history. The guest facilitators did a good job handling the bell tower. The exercise called for some interesting activities to take place. The blankets represented the land, so everyone walked on the blankets (no shoes in the family centre please) as the facilitators read out various scripts. Going throughout time, starting with first contact with Europeans in the 1500s, the treaties in the 1700s, the Indian Act, Residential Schools and broken promises. Throughout the exercise, I was so proud of members of the Bell Tower family for being their usual rowdy selves and not cooperating with the rules of the game as history was read out to us. I truly believe that the actions displayed by members of our family throughout this activity were very much representative of the tenacity and determination of our communities – since forever.
- Scripts corrected – Throughout the exercise we were more than vocal when we heard parts of history that were incomplete in their delivery. We were also honest and vocal when reading scripts ourselves when we felt like additional information was required.
- Blankets unkicked – The facilitator was required to go around and remove blankets as the script went on and many were offended by the kicking of the blankets, since they represented the land. The offensiveness was likely intentional and by design, but it didn’t stop us from going behind the facilitator and unkicking the corners of our blankets behind them. Good job guys.
- “Don’t let go” – there was a part where some of us, including me, represented the children who were taken away to residential schools. We were taken to a blanket separated from the rest of the group. At one point were brought back to participants who were holding hands in the circle, representing our home communities. When the facilitator told the participants to let go of their hands, to represent the challenges in the communities, many of the bell tower said ‘don’t let go’ and refused to do so. They resisted, everyone witnessed that, and I believe that THAT was a true part of history.
- Breaking out of residential school – The narrator read on, until he got to the 2008 apology by Stephen Harper (which we corrected details about, that the speaker of the house was not sitting in the chair at the time of the apology, as he must be when laws are passed). However, some of us were still standing on the ‘residential school blanket’. I asked if we could leave, since the residential schools were closed in 1996, and he said he would get to us…which he didn’t. When he got to the sharing circle part of the script, me and the other residential school blanket students broke out of residential school and sat back with the rest of the circle.
- Put the blankets back – After a couple people shared, one of our regulars said they didn’t want to continue with the exercise until we all put the blankets back. He was very articulate in stating, after the few seconds it took to put all the blankets back on the floor he said ‘obviously its gonna take more than 45 seconds to fix what has happened here, but this is where we need to go’. The facilitators told me that they don’t encourage groups to put the land back because they don’t wanna let non-indigenous participants ‘off the hook’ and I can respect that. But I also love how at the Bell Tower we finish our evening with hope….always.
These are some examples that made me so proud of the way our community is healing. At the end of the night, many of our regulars addressed their own feelings about the exercise, sharing freely how they felt, but in usual bell tower style, sharing their recommendations on how future BEs could be facilitated in a more respectful and sensitive way. Working cooperatively with groups and learning together is part of why MM@BT exists. I am also happy to report that I am in email connection with the folks who deliver the blanket exercise and will continue to collect feedback from our bell tower participants and share it with all parties involved. Thank you all for your beautiful blanket resistance – we are strong – we are healing. [YOU CAN SEE VIDEOS OF THE SCRIPTS BEING READ OUT ON MM@BT F.B. PAGE thanks to @WCDanyting for capturing them]