I’d Love to Change the World
How the Kairos Blanket Exercise creates and opens a dialogue regarding Indigenous peoples in the 21st century world
I am an Indigenous first year law student though my Indigenous background didn’t really play a significant role in my life until I attended university. I used my experience here at Queen’s to help me learn about my culture – I am a Lower Mohawk of the Six Nations of the Grand River. Prior to attending Queen’s, I hadn’t even heard of the Kairos Blanket Exercise.
I wasn’t sure what to expect by participating in the activity. I heard from previous participants and other Indigenous students that the experience was incredibly meaningful but also emotionally powerful. The exercise began, and it took those who were involved through a retelling of Canadian history in quick succession – but from an Indigenous perspective. It portrayed history in a way you can’t find by looking at a book.
Coming from an Indigenous background I was already aware of some of the atrocities perpetuated in Canadian history – most notably but not limited to residential schools, disease, famine, and the continued loss of culture. However, there is a stark difference from reading about events in a textbook and the interactive nature that this exercise provides.
As we walked the land known as Turtle Island (represented by blankets on the floor), the European figure in our exercise continued to snatch away the pieces of land that we couldn’t protect. I acknowledged then that this wasn’t something that they were going to stop anytime soon. On a bigger level I remember thinking that was a feeling that Indigenous people face on a recurring basis – except its not just a historical problem. In 2018 there are more unresolved land claims that one can reasonably count – this just demonstrates that while the activity emphasizes understanding of history through an Indigenous perspective, the issues have far reaching consequences that permeate in modern society.
We all participated in the exercise in turn – each of us was given a scroll which contained a statement by someone (Indigenous or otherwise) in relation to the history we were exploring. I followed along, listening to classmates and friends recite their given messages, fully giving myself into the experience though unsure what emotionality previous participants had spoke of. The exercise began light hearted but grew solemn as it continued. However, my emotions didn’t make an appearance until the sharing circle which culminated our activity.
On a Friday afternoon, seated in a building suited on traditional Haudenosaunee and Anishnaabe territory, our group opened up in a way that I had never thought possible. It was clear that their participation in this event had affected them as much as it had myself though perhaps in different ways. Even if they were not acutely aware of it, as the sharing continued I watched as facial expressions changed as brains struggled to cope with the amount of knowledge they had been flooded with. Not only were we able to have a fast-track course of Indigenous Canadian history, but it created an environment that encouraged inclusion and openness. We all came from different places but we came together to be a part of what I think is such a fundamental exercise. In a short period of time, we had created a communal space where peers were not afraid to voice their opinions for fear of repercussions on topics that have become so publicized in the news and are significant to understanding Indigenous epistemology. I know when I spoke that I didn’t originally intend to share as much as I did but I know that I felt comfortable enough to do so.
It’s hard to recognize that that comfort is a feeling that Indigenous peoples are privy to less and less. This is the reality that a lot of Indigenous people face. I’m beginning to feel it more and more as my time at law school continues and I can further explore these issues. However, it is events like this that make it possible to have a greater understanding and appreciation for Indigenous peoples and their history. And it’s a key to creating and maintaining an open and meaningful dialogue when so often we, as a people, are silenced.
Shelby Percival (1L) is a guest contributor.