A process to heal through First Nations teachings was the focus of a blanket exercise Nov. 18 at High Prairie Friendship Centre.
About 30 community leaders and workers from the High Prairie region were trained to lead a blanket exercise during the three-hour session facilitated by Alberta Human Services.
“It was a very enlightening and educational experience,” says Lyanne Grammer, executive director of the Friendship Centre.
“The focus of the event was to educate families and community members about residential school survivors, residential schools, and the impact of Aboriginal and European histories in Canada.”
Long before Europeans arrived, North America (then known as Turtle Island) was home to countless millions of First Nations peoples who lived in thousands of distinct societies, she noted.
“The goal of the blanket exercise is to help all Canadians understand our history, one that we were never taught in school,” says facilitator Michelle Grant, northwest regional manager of communications for the child and family services division of Human Services.
“Through the exercise, blankets laid on the floor are removed, as the history is told, to demonstrate how the land of the Indigenous people was taken away and eroded; our land, our traditions, culture, and language.”
Training supports the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRD) call to action for governments to help public servants understand how colonization has impacted people who live here long before 1492; explore the nation-to-nation relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada, how this relationship has been damaged over the years and how to work together towards reconciliation.
The blanket exercise is the first step in reconciliation, a journey of healing the past that all must share.
Since the TRC Report recommendations came out in 2015, the blanket exercise has been delivered across Canada, to public servants, both federal and provincial, as well as within municipalities, to schools, universities and community organizations.
One recommendation calls the federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal governments to provide information to public servants on the history of Aboriginal peoples, including the history and legacy of residential schools.
The blanket exercise remains in high demand due, in part, to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
In response to the 1995 Royal Commission, the blanket exercise was developed in 1997 by Kairos, which has worked with the Assembly of First Nations and other Indigenous organizations and communities to ensure the recommendations of that commission are not forgotten.
The facilitator also read a quote from B.C. Regional Chief Shane Gottfriedson.
“We must remember that reconciliation is not merely symbolic, nor is it a destination, it is an action and a journey that must manifest in relationship building.
Locally, three residential schools were located in the High Prairie region.
St. Bernard’s Residential School in Grouard operated from 1890-1961, St. Andrew’s Residential School in Whitefish Lake / Atikameg opened from 1903 to around 1950, and St. Bruno’s Residential School in Joussard operated from 1913-1969.