The Blanket Exercise as Experienced at Knox

Do you want to be well?

So asked Rev. Dave Holmes in his sermon on Sunday, May 1st.

This ordinary Sunday turned out to be extraordinary in the life of Knox United Church.

Based on the reading of the gospel (Scripture John 5: 1-9) where Jesus asks the blind man if he wishes to be healed before walking into the healing waters, Dave posed this question to us listeners.  Then followed more questions, more insights, as he challenged us to consider what it means to be well in this changing world.  Did we want to look at colonialism, assimilation, and reconciliation?

The students in Western Canada High School choir listened to a powerful service about reconciliation and change, and raised their voices in soaring music.  Randy Bottle added a thoughtful prayer as he represented the people of Treaty Seven, and we listened.  Rev. Greg Glatz told the story of how adults exhorted him during his youth  to buy land, and also how an aboriginal couple struggled to earn enough money to buy gifts for their grandchildren.  He asked us to question land ownership, as it is an assumption we settlers seldom address.  We listened.  Heads nodded in agreement.  We breathed slowly.

Lunch in the gym after church was offered by members of the Aboriginal working group.  Two women had cooked bannock, both fried and baked, and others brought large pots of soup.  Those people who had eaten bannock before praised the cooks, who had learned from Anita Eaglebear, a Native Elder, and thus they prepared it authentically.  About sixty people stayed for lunch, after which Anita and her husband Randy led us in reflections about Spirit, the land, and where we stood upon the land.

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About twenty-five people then moved to the Labyrinth room, where Paul Mullen and Sandra Gardiner led us through the Kairos-developed Blanket Exercise.  We were also joined by Michelle Robinson, a Metis and activist, who told us more about the first people of Canada and the lands where they dwelt.  We listened, and admired the many blankets and quilts brought to lay upon the floor.  After more spiritual reflection, and assigning roles to volunteers to read various parts of the script, we walked atop the blankets.

Volunteers Jean Reid and Michael White played major roles in the script.  We listened attentively to the script.  Sandra slowly removed blankets to represent the loss of land that aboriginal people experienced through the past 400 years.  We thought.  We felt.  We learned.  Many wept.  Some of us had to sit apart, representing the many aboriginal people who died of smallpox, or starvation, or war.  This emotional experience led to more reflection in a sharing circle after the exercise.  All of us were impacted.  The accurate history, so clearly worded and expressed, told the facts.  The process involved all of us walking, seeing, reading, hearing, thinking, and feeling.

Two weeks later this day was evaluated.  We talked about our feelings, what went well, and how we could have improved the days’ events.  There were few suggestions for improvement. Feelings included appreciation for the work of the planners and  cooks, the bannock, the musicians,  the prayers, the inclusion of aboriginal people, and the miraculous integration of the whole day from church service to leave-taking five hours later.   One person said the bannock was like the bread of her native Phillipines.  Another said he wanted to learn more, realizing how little he had learned of aboriginal history.  Praise for the organizers was expressed.  This exercise exemplifies good adult education: Experience, Participation, Images, and Connection.  This EPIC anagram has been used several times this past year, but I didn’t appreciate it until the Blanket Exercise.  Did the people who developed the program know exactly what they were doing?  Perhaps.  The exercise involved all of us, and helped us feel as well as understand a little more,

In the feedback circle, individuals told stories of their previous experience and family tales involving aboriginals.  We learned from each other, and grew in understanding and acceptance of differences.

One suggestion for improvement was to be clearer in promoting the event, so that people would know better what to expect in regards to time and needs.  We had hoped for more than 25 people, as our church luncheons frequently draw 100 or more people.  However, those 25 of us who participated learned a lot.  At the conclusion of the feedback circle, Randy Bottle shared that his birthday was this same day, and he felt gifted by the experience we shared together.  He and his wife are donating the honoraria to Ghost River Rediscovery, a summer camp for aboriginal and non-aboriginal children, which emphasizes native teachings.  Randy assured us that we are on the right track in our work, and blessed us for this day.

A big THANK YOU to everyone who helped make this so successful. 

This was an introduction to our study of aboriginal life, and leads us closer to our goals of addressing the Calls to Action in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report.  

May our work strengthen hearts and minds as we continue to journey together.

– by Sharon Montgomery

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