I left Wetaskiwin at 7:30 am on the bright, sunny morning of June 21 to drive an hour south to the community of Bashaw. It was National Indigenous Peoples’ Day and I was going to the Bashaw School to facilitate one of two Blanket Exercises. The school in Bashaw had dedicated the whole of Indigenous Peoples’ Day to learning Indigenous history, playing First Nations’ games and coming together to celebrate the people of this land.
I came into the school and it was a hub of activity. There were teachers and students everywhere getting ready for the day. I met up with Wendy Kaikam, the regional representative for KAIROS, who was facilitating the other Blanket Exercise (the Blanket Exercise was developed by KAIROS as a way to educate about Indigenous history pre and post contact with European settlers). It is an intensive history lesson that is very hands-on for all involved.
I found out that I would be working with the Grade 10 to 12 classes and that a teacher would be assisting me. I set up the blankets, found a place to get changed into my ribbon skirt and waited for the students to arrive.
We went through the exercise and I watched the students’ reactions as many were asked to leave the blankets and the blankets got smaller and smaller. Most were stunned to learn the true story of what has occurred over the last 500 years of shared history with Indigenous and settler people.
During the sharing circle I asked the students to share their strongest feeling. Many shared about the residential schools and the disease ridden blankets that were given to First Nations’ folks. They were shocked by the decimation of the Indigenous people population caused by the actions of the settlers. Not wanting to leave them in despair, we did a second round of the circle and this time I asked them what gives them hope now. Many spoke about this special school day to honour Indigenous Peoples and about the new relationships they were building with First Nations people. They also observed that they view First Nations people as equals in Canada.
I have to say this was a most delightful way to spend Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Sharing knowledge and looking with hope to the future. As the song by The Who says, “the kids are alright,” and reconciliation is happening step by step.