The Blanket Exercise

by Hollis Hiscock

The KAIROS Blanket Exercise was developed, according to their website (kairoscanada.org), as “a teaching tool to share the historic and contemporary relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada.”

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Thirty people participated in a Blanket Exercise in Niagara Falls. The workshop begins with people standing on the blankets which represent the land. Photos: Bill Mous

It stemmed from the 1996 Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, which recommended “education on Canadian-Indigenous history as one of the key steps to reconciliation.” During a 90 minute workshop participants cover 500 years of history.

KAIROS explains the process this way:

“Blanket Exercise participants take on the roles of Indigenous peoples in Canada. Standing on blankets that represent the land, they walk through pre-contact, treaty-making, colonization and resistance. They are directed by facilitators representing a narrator (or narrators) and the European colonizers. Participants are drawn into the experience by reading scrolls and carrying cards which ultimately determine their outcomes. By engaging on an emotional and intellectual level, the Blanket Exercise effectively educates and increases empathy. Ideally, the exercise is followed by a debriefing session in which participants have the opportunity to discuss the experience as a group. This often takes the form of a talking circle.”

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As history unfolds, participants walk through experiences such as pre-contact, treaty-making, colonization and resistance. Photo: Bill Mous

Their website—
kairosblanketexercise.org—is filled with “resources, support and tools to bring this workshop to your school, place of worship, community organization, local event or anywhere that people gather.” You can also “watch training videos, access Blanket Exercise scripts, download supplementary materials, and connect with others!”

KAIROS, a faith-based social justice organization of 10 Canadian churches and religious organizations, focuses on Indigenous rights, international human rights, gender justice and ecological justice. It deliberates on issues of common concern, advocates for social change and joins with people of faith and goodwill in action for social transformation.