In an exercise designed to illustrate the rapid loss of land, language, and culture experienced by First Nations following the arrival of Europeans on Turtle Island (the indigenous term for North America), students at at St. Dominic Savio School in Regina took part in a Blanket Exercise. They were asked to stand on blankets which had been placed on the floor, and once the floor was completely covered, the blankets were removed one by one — each representing an indigenous law, custom, or cultural practice — until participants were left occupying small patches of land, representing the reserves on which indigenous peoples were soon confined. (Photo by Frank Flegel)
REGINA — Grade 7 and 8 students at St. Dominic Savio School expressed surprise at how quickly life on the prairies changed for the indigenous people after the Europeans arrived. They participated in a Blanket Exercise accompanied by a couple of short videos that said an estimated 20 million people lived on what they called Turtle Island (North America), with their own social, commercial, cultural, and government structures.
Joanna Landry, Regina Catholic School Division co-ordinator of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Education (FNMI), aided by residential school survivor Susan Beaudin, described how laws were passed that took away their land, language, and culture in an effort to solve the “Indian Problem,” as it was described by politicians and bureaucrats of the day.
Blanket Exercise participants place blankets on the floor roughly in the shape of Turtle Island, an example of which was shown on a video. With the floor completely covered, they were asked to stand on the blankets, each of which was removed as Landry and Beaudin described the laws and practices that took away the land, until participants were all standing on small patches of the remaining land that represented the reserves on which indigenous peoples were once confined; they could not leave without the Indian Agent’s approval.
In a series of narratives by Landry and Beaudin, students heard about residential schools, the “60s Scoop” and the importance of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). One of the videos featured Justice Murray Sinclair, chair of the TRC, describing the report as pointing the way toward reconciliation and healing.
The students, along with Landry and Beaudin, gathered in a talking circle to discuss their feelings about the exercise, what they had learned from it, and to ask questions. Those who spoke said the rapid loss of land as experienced during the exercise was what struck them the most. Beaudin, who had described her residential school experience, was asked if she had learned to forgive. She said taking part in the Blanket Exercise is part of her healing journey.
Landry told media that the blanket exercise was modified to be age-appropriate for the students at different grade levels. It will eventually be taken to all schools in the division.