Last month, the Ryerson UofMosaic Fellows hosted a small workshop with 30 students, staff and faculty on campus. The workshop was modeled after the KAIROS blanket activity, which is an interactive teaching tool used to guide participants through different parts of Canadian Indigenous history including the effects of residential schools on families and communities for nearly a century. Since our chosen topic of the year was Indigenous challenges and resiliency, our goal was to provide a space to learn more about the residential school system from an Indigenous perspective, something that most of the participants had never experienced.
Ryerson’s Aboriginal Education Council member Elder Joanne Dallaire and coordinator Cheryl Trudeau facilitated the event. For the exercise we used a blanket that was made by Cheryl. It was used to represent the lands of the Indigenous peoples which we now recognize as Canada. Indigenous distinctive nations and cultures were represented in the blanket. In the roleplay aspect of the activity, participants represented First Nation Peoples, the facilitators Elder Joanne Dallaire and Cheryl Trudeau guided us through the blanket experience. We were taken back to a time period of the arrival of the Europeans. Cheryl played the role of the European Leaders and walked around the participants as the script was being read. Moments of interaction between the First Nations (Participants) and European Leader (Cheryl) experienced moments of treaty-making, colonization, and resistance. We were directly pulled into the traumatic results of colonization and a deeper outlook on Truth and Reconciliation.
A very terrifying and memorable experience on the Blanket, was when Cheryl provided us warm blankets that was scripted as being infected by smallpox to kill our “people” slowly and remove us from our “lands”.
Equally important was the time allotted for dialogue after the activity, which was held in the form of a talking circle. In the talking circle, participants brought up what a transformative and potent activity it was. Several participants were particularly emotional, connecting the history brought up in the activity with their own personal backgrounds and stories. Most expressed elements of gratitude that they were able to attend an activity that exposed them to the truth behind the residential school system in Canada. Several expressed they should have been exposed to this truth sooner, as it would have impacted their understanding of Indigenous culture in Canada.
[The photos above are the handmade blankets that were used for the event, created by Cheryl Trudeau, Coordinator of Ryerson Aboriginal Education Council. To sustain the integrity of this activity and protect our participants’ emotional experience through the triggering moments, we decided it was best not to take any photos of the activity and participants that were present]
Here is a short video that provides a further understanding of the setup of the Kairo’s Blanket Activity.
Blog written by: UofMosaic Fellows at Ryerson University (Rina Afendi, Lauren Kim, Hayley Hanks and Amanda Louise Macdonald)