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Shifting Perspective: The Kairos Blanket Exercise

Yesterday I, and approximately 40 of my colleagues, attended a Kairos Blanket Exercise at our work place. The activity moved me deeply and, although I am still processing my feelings, I can state unequivocally that it was time well spent. My personal and professional life will, I hope, never be the same.

The Blanket Exercise is an interactive journey through the history of colonization in Canada, with the participants becoming completely immersed within an indigenous viewpoint. The presenter, an aboriginal person, takes the role of the European colonizer.  

I thought I knew the history of Canada pretty well, and I have a great many friends and a few relatives who are aboriginal, so I did not think I was going to learn anything new. But I found myself gasping out loud as new pieces of information were given.  The audacity and the cruelty of my country stunned me.

But it was not the new knowledge that impacted me the most. It was the realization that my world view was skewed. You see, I am a child of the ‘60’s. When I was growing up, many of my friends and adopted relatives were aboriginal. They had been taken away from their families in what is now known as the ‘60’s Scoop. At the time, it seemed like the right thing to do. The kids I knew had loving, caring adoptive families. They had, according to what I was told at the time, been taken away from abusive situations and “saved” by being placed into white foster and adoptive homes. Wasn’t that the right thing to do, for the child? Who wouldn’t want to leave a life of poverty, dysfunction and hopelessness for a chance at succeeding in the larger world? Wasn’t it better to assimilate? I read those words now and they give me a sick feeling in my gut. What my people – settlers and descendants of setters had done: years and years of purposeful attempts, official and unofficial, to commit genocide, to destroy families and whole nations. I felt ashamed, embarrassed and angry.

Recently I was back on the prairies, visiting my sister and her friend. The friend had a Dutch last name but was, as far as she knew, the only aboriginal person living in our town. She spoke of the loneliness, the sense of not belonging, the realization that she had no one to turn to when she wanted to find out more about her culture. She felt lost. Now, in her fifties, she is finally beginning a healing process and receiving assistance in finding herself. I thought of her as I meditated during the Blanket Exercise. What was wrong was not that she had been saved from abuse. What was wrong was that she was not allowed to stay within her culture. What was wrong was that her adoptive family, like many other foster and adoptive homes, was not a happy, healthy family and she suffered because of it. What was wrong was that her aboriginal parents had never been given a chance to learn how to parent within their own culture, as they themselves were taken away from their parents, abused and neglected in residential schools, then put back on reserves, broken inside and out. What was wrong was that their parents were forced on to reserves and had their land stolen from them. What was wrong was that before those parents, whole communities were intentionally wiped out by accepting the gifts of blankets infested with small pox. What was wrong was that the children of the ‘60’s were robbed of their culture as much and as cruelly as their parents before them, as their parents before them, as their parents before them...

I have learned Truth. Now I must do what I can, in work and personally, to Reconcile. If you hear of a Kairos Blanket Exercise, please take the opportunity to participate. You will be glad you did. 

Hope Taylor, 4th-year BCR student