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Vermilion residents experience First Nation history through blanket exercise

A group of people in Vermilion took part in an emotional experience going through 500 years of Indigenous Peoples history.

Vermilion Unites for Equality and Asokanihkewak, also known as TheyBuildBridges, organized a KAIROS Blanket Exercise at the Vermilion Ag Society. The exercise goes through the history of colonization, the redistribution of Indigenous peoples and lands and the generational impacts.

The blankets act as a visual representation of Canada. As the facilitator goes through events, the blankets are removed or made smaller to represent the loss of aboriginal peoples land. Participants are also asked to leave the blankets to represent the deaths caused by tuberculosis, smallpox and other diseases.

Throughout the exercise, participants are asked to read aloud historical events, such as the Sixties Scoop, and personal experiences from those involved. About 20 people took part in the blanket exercise wearing masks and gloves.

Participant Ashleigh Cardinal says she came to the event wanting to learn how to become a better educator on inequality.

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“It’s good to hear the different perspectives of people whose ancestors were the ones doing the damage and seeing that it’s time to acknowledge this, move forward, come together and make changes.”

“It’s shifted my perspective on the approach I want to take in regards to anti-racism.”

Cardinal recommends those who have never participated in a blanket exercise to do so and come with an open mind.

She says it was an emotional experience as many participants shed tears during the exercise. Brad Gallamore with Vermilion Unites for Equality shared the same sentiment.

“It was hard to see others emotions through my own tears to be honest. I can tell it brought out a lot in a lot of people. It was really nice to see that everyone so involved and actively wanting to be here. Seeing those emotions, it cemented why we wanted to do this and why it was so important.”

Vermilion Unites for Equality is a community group looking to open up conversations about racism and the issues black, Indigenous and peoples of colour face. Facilitator Kevin John of Asokanihkewak approached Gallamore offering to host the blanket exercise in an effort to change the group’s approach on addressing racism within the community.

“There’s more delicate and respectful ways of approaching the idea that racism exists in any community.”

“As long as there are people opposing, there’s education to be shared. That’s the whole purpose of what I do and my family does. My sister and I started TheyBuildBridges purely out of racist acts that happened to me.”

John has brought to the blanket exercise and truth and reconciliation sessions to schools throughout Alberta. He says he’s thankful to be able to do them again while complying with current COVID-19 guidelines.

The exercise was created by KAIROS in the 1990s to create a better understanding between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

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