“Education got us into this mess, and education will get us out of this mess.” Murray Sinclair
I truly love learning on my feet. It seems that when my body is immersed, the learning goes both to my head and to my heart. The opportunity last month to help facilitate the Blanket Exercise with two grade 6 classes at Niverville Middle School reminded me of this yet again. Further still, to partner with Anishinaabe elder Geraldine (Grandma) Shingoose in the exercise, and to learn from and be cared for by her, further enriched the experience.
In a nutshell, the Blanket exercise is an interactive learning experience whereby participants take a look at the last 500 years of Indigenous history (the 90 minute experience is replete with information). All participants are invited on to the northern part of Turtle Island, (represented by the blankets) as they journey, learn, reflect, and are impacted by an interwoven story from history that Canadians have only recently begun listening to. Individuals assume roles and become active participants as the narrative unfolds, being invited into key moments from the past (and present), and their subsequent impact on Indigenous peoples from coast to coast to coast.
Born out of a response to the 1996 Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, the Blanket Exercise itself has seen a number of updates (the most recent seeking to include the information from the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Report).
The second part of the Blanket Exercise, the sharing circle, is perhaps where the most heartfelt learning lies for me. Educational theorist John Dewey says, “learning doesn’t lie in the experience, but in reflecting on the experience.” This notion is made manifest for me in the sharing circle. Further still, being part of a circle of students who are offering their learning/perspectives to those gathered feels like reflection to the power of 10(!). No two reflective responses are the same, because no two students are the same. The additional sharing done by the NMS parents who took part revealed well that this is indeed an exercise in healing that needs to continue.
While I’ve taken part in a number of Blanket Exercises over the past three years, each one offers me a bit more understanding than the one before. This time around, working with and learning from Grandma Shingoose reminded me again just how resilient and strong Indigenous peoples are.
Teachers are ever looking for ways to engage their learners intellectually as well as emotionally. The Blanket Exercise provides a great opportunity to think about Indigenous peoples and Canada’s relationship therewith. Further still, it gives those looking to begin their own journey of reconciliation a great place to start.