Saturday I participated in an Early Child Development Conference workshop entitled “The Blanket Exercise”.
This was an interactive workshop about the history of First Nations people in Canada, with particular emphasis on First Nations people in BC.
There were many First Nations participants, one First Nations facilitator, and several First Nations elders from the local band.
Most of the people present had been a part of the Early Childhood Development Conference which ran all day; I had been invited through my Social Worker to attend The Blanket Exercise.
When I walked into the workshop area there was a large circle of chairs surrounding a patchwork of blankets carefully placed on the floor, which I was to discover represented Turtle Island, the name given to Canada by indigenous people before it was taken over by European settlers.
I took one of the chairs and waited.
The workshop was interactive and from the start we were invited to take off our shoes and walk barefoot on the blankets and get a feel for the land we owned. We played the part of indigenous peoples in the story being narrated.
Many of us were given a numbered scroll that we would be asked to read when our number was called. I was number 10.
Four facilitators told the story as we walked the blankets, and the story unfolded, and folded (blanket humour) over the course of the hour.
The story was of the land being taken, treaties broken, land acts being created, legislation drawn, children being removed from homes, isolation, desolation, hunger, death, and loss of connection.
This was not a happy story.
Tears were shed, both by the First Nations participants and by those of us in the room who were feeling the heartbreak and injustice in the story being shown.
My scroll was about Residential Schools. It was a short few paragraphs to read, but was written in a way that we in the room were to experience it, “You have no rights, you have no way of stopping the police from taking your children, you have no way to stop this from happening. Your children were taken and some never returned.”
Once again I felt the rising anger at the injustice. How could this have happened? How could anyone – ever – have felt it was right to treat people this way, the people who had helped them survive in the beginning. I wanted to stand up and scream, “this is not right!” Instead my anger formed silently in the tears that rolled down my cheeks.
It is not right. It is absolutely wrong. But it is history, it happened, and anger will not help now, though it should be expressed by those who feel it in a safe and loving way. Now is the time for acceptance, healing, and moving forward with love.
After the story was complete, the elders were invited to share what they felt about the Blanket Exercise as well as their own feelings about this history that is only beginning to come to light and be spoken openly about.
The stories shared, often through tears, were beautiful and some very sad.
Stories of family, of love, of understanding, of teaching, and of connection.
Stories of misunderstanding, of no family, of bouncing from homes, of turning away from their roots, of disconnection.
The sharing was pure, real, and heart felt no matter the experience.
Then we were all invited to share, as a part of a sharing circle, a little about how the exercise made us feel.
At first I felt panic about the idea of sharing, and then about the idea of listening to 30 or so stories. I was emotional enough already and had shed more public tears than I cared to shed.
I was sixth in line. By the time my turn came I wanted to thank everyone for allowing me to be here. After all, this was one workshop of a day for Early Childhood workers, only this workshop was open to outsiders and I was so grateful to be here.
That was my plan, however, when I opened my mouth I found myself talking about the Aboriginal Adoption online course I did through the Indigenous Perspectives Society on Aboriginal history and culture. I expressed how much I loved the course that was offered to me as a pre-adoptive parent. Then I expressed how powerful and heartbreaking this exercise was with its visual approach, and with those in the room that this history had touched personally. Finally, I did thank the organisers, and everyone in the room, for allowing me to be a part of the exercise and the experience.
I talked for about 2 minutes and I said what my heart wanted me to say.
It felt good and I felt supported in this sharing circle.
The next 24 (or so) stories were equally as heartfelt and there were moments when I found myself weeping once more. In sympathy as someone shed their own tears, or because the energy in the room evoked the emotion, or because something someone said had struck my heart on a personal level.
The whole experience was powerful and healing.
One of the facilitators, a Deacon and First Nations man, talked about how this was the sixth time he had done this exercise and that each time he tells a similar story and that each time his story gets a little easier to share.
He has realised that in the speaking of his story, he is healing, and he can feel the healing by the way it gets easier to talk about his story. He acknowledged that one day he will be able to move on from that story and find a new way to see his own personal history, and then he will know he is healed.
This was powerful for me and resonated.
I identified with his belief, and it made me think of many experiences in my own history, as well as my present, where I have explored something and told my story over and over in similar ways until that story was spent and I was healed. The story no longer held power over me and I was able to let it go.
Many of my stories involved my mother, stories I no longer tell because they no longer hurt me to tell them. I am healed in relation to those stories.
It was therapeutic to hear this man say that out loud to this group.
I needed to hear it. It confirmed my own beliefs.
It’s interesting to me that I identify with the First Nations way of looking at life, relationships, love, child-rearing, and the connection to all things. I felt this powerful connection during the course I took as part of becoming an approved adoptive parent, and again during this powerful workshop on the First Nations history.
One of the elder women who spoke told several stories about her grandmother and her grandmother’s way of teaching her their own personal history in everyday things. It wasn’t classroom instruction; it was instruction through doing, through watching, through participating, and through the telling of stories. She said that as a teen she was not always the willing participant but out of respect she followed along, and now as a grandmother herself she was so grateful for those teachings and the understanding that became a part of her essence.
She talked of her grandmother being a healer for their community, using herbs and plants and poultices to heal, and that because they were in a remote location she also became midwife during many births. Her grandmother has long passed but she reminisced about the teachings and how they have influenced the way she interacts with her own grandchildren – two of whom were present.
She spoke of how she had struggled with many of the negatives and stigmas associated with being First Nations for many years and that she never laughed or cried in public. This day she openly wept, openly loved, openly laughed with ease and she noted that she has healed so much that now she does all of these things without hesitation. She has healed. She is free.
This was a woman I would have loved to spend a whole day with listening to her stories, her presence made me feel welcome.
Another woman, who exuded strength, confidence, and vibrancy, also broke down and talked about how she had felt ashamed about her culture growing up and is only now coming to love and accept herself as First Nations. I felt the pain she was feeling and wept with her.
So many times I wanted to get up and hug someone when they were talking, or just touch them to support.
What was amazing to me and so, so, so beautiful was that the First Nations people in the room did. They walked around the room hugging those who needed it, touching their shoulder or back or knee in support as they talked. They are one, they are family, and they are love.
I aspire to be that free, open, and loving.
When it was over, I thanked in person those whose stories touched me deeply.
This resulted in hugs and more tears (mine mostly).
I appreciated every hug – as giver and receiver – more than I could have expressed.
As I left the building and got back into my car, I felt lighter, freer, and internally still.
My plan had been to stop at several stores on that side of town to pick up some things on my grocery list. I no longer wanted to do that. It no longer felt urgent or important.
The hugs I had received, the love I felt, the release I felt in that room – mine and others – was calling me to just sit with it and allow it to cleanse.
I wanted to get home and write about it.
This has been a cleansing weekend for me starting with the three hour yoga workshop I did on Friday evening (more another time), then the three hour Blanket Exercise workshop on Saturday.
Both events involved truth, cleansing of body and mind, and hugs.
Hugging is so important.
This is one thing that I’ve taken away from both events – hugging is so important. So much love can be conveyed in a hug, and it uplifts both people. I want to hug more.
Tears are cleansing.
There is no reason to hold back tears, let them flow, they release the hurt, fear, and anger, into the wind. They also release love to wash over you. I felt this deeply during the Blanket Exercise workshop.
Tears are a good thing.
Whether I am matched with First Nation’s children or any other background, I know that I will teach my children the history of First Nations people’s in Canada – the real history – and I will also use the beliefs and teachings of First Nations people that resonate with me in my way of parenting.
Warm smiles and Love,