By Keltie MacKenzie
In light of the exciting announcement that Fort Edmonton Park will be receiving funding from the federal government, there has been a great deal of talk about one of the major aspects of this expansion, called the The Indigenous Peoples Experience (IPE). The IPE will aim to educate on Indigenous culture, treaties, and Indigenous history in the Edmonton region, and it is hoped that sharing these stories will play a role in the journey towards truth and reconciliation.
It is along this theme that the KAIROS Blanket Exercise was born. Though perhaps smaller in scale than the funding announcement, the Blanket Exercise that occurred at Fort Edmonton Park in early March was an incredibly powerful experience. It proved to hold an incredible amount of information and importance for those who were able to participate, and is arguably one of the most creative and impactful ways one could share the Indigenous narrative today.
The Blanket Exercise was hosted by Fort Edmonton Park, in partnership with the Edmonton Business Diversity Network in support of their current educational topic, Indigenous People. Participants filed into the Blatchford Field Air Hangar, where one half of the room was filled tables and chairs, while the other half saw a kaleidoscope of blankets being placed on the floor by the facilitator. After hearing a hauntingly beautiful rendition of a traditional Cree song which celebrates the goodness in life, participants dispersed themselves across the blanketed area. It was explained that the blankets represented the land of Canada, then called Turtle Island by many First Nation groups in accordance with their creation story.
The exercise began in harmony with the land and each other, exploring the ways in which Indigenous groups lived prior to the arrival of Europeans. A selected member of the group then acted as a European immigrant, at first shaking hands with everyone and learning their ways. However, the European also handed out coloured cards, which at first had no meaning. However, as time went on, the group came to realize that these totems symbolized a changing relation between First Nations and the Europeans, and slowly, the population and blanketed area began to shrink in size, creating a powerful message of the feelings of powerlessness and loss within the now physically divided community.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action that aspects such as Education, Professional Development, Youth Programs, and Museums and Archives begin to take a more active role in the journey to healing and understanding. The Blanket Exercise is, undeniably, a wonderful way to meet this call in a unique and memorable way. Not only did it bring insight into the plight of early Indigenous peoples, but it also helped to create empathy and understanding of the current steps towards reconciliation. Truly, words on a page cannot do justice to the experience of such an exercise, just as they cannot do justice to the experience of Indigenous peoples. It has to come down to intentional action and active participation, both of which are beautifully and powerfully done by the facilitators and participants of The Blanket Exercise. Truly, there are many different sources of education out there, but nothing compares to such a personal interaction. To bring this narrative into your community, you may consider hosting a blanket ceremony at your work, or visiting Fort Edmonton Park this summer to experience our First Nations and Metis exhibits first-hand.
As Fort Edmonton Park opens the next chapter of their expansion and exploration of local history, funds are being raised to bring these crucial stories to life. Exploring the narrative of Indigenous Peoples in Canada is a path that is now at the forefront of many in culture and tourism, but there is something we can do as well. For while governments and institutions can graciously stream funds into the development of such programs, ultimately, it is up to us to ensure these stories are heard and explored. To play a part in this story, or for more information, you can watch the video below or visit the Fort Edmonton Park Foundation’s website. Let’s do our part in preserving the stories that impact all of us, for we are all Treaty People.