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Shelburne teens reflect on Indigenous events

By Marni Walsh

The Indigenous Blanket Exercise at St. Mark's Church in Orangeville on January 22 drew a large crowd of area residents interested in learning more about the truth behind First Nations history in Canada.

Among those attending were three young Shelburne students – Kayla and Ella Cruikshank and Sarah Bannon.

The girls attended with Kayla and Ella's grandmother Ruth Cruikshank, a long time member of KAIROS Dufferin.

KAIROS is a non-profit ecumenical group working for human rights and ecological justice. KAIROS teamed up with the Headwaters Indigenous Awareness Group and local churches to sponsor “The Blanket Exercise” with the aim of helping the Truth and Reconciliation Commission process to move forward.

Before attending the Blanket Exercise, 14-year-old Kayla, a Grade 9 student at Centre Dufferin District High School (CDDHS), told the Shelburne Free Press she “had no idea how badly the First Nations were treated on the land that was theirs to begin with.”

Lynne Thackwray, Anglican priest at St. Mark's Church, says the Indigenous Awareness Group hoped to “address the myths that have been perpetuated for so many years and set the record straight.”

“We hope to help restore relationships by actively responding to the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission,” she said.

Added Kayla: “We put the blankets on the ground and that acted as Canada. Slowly, the blankets shrunk and the actors died as a result of the Europeans. I found the exercise very educational. My grandma, Ruth Cruikshank, helped with the meal which was Three Sisters soup, corn chowder and bean soup as well as bannock.”

Participants at the event read from scripts as the voices of First Nations people, describing their way of life and events that affected and destroyed that existence; most prominently the arrival of Europeans, treaties, land appropriation and forced assimilation.

As their history unfolded, blankets representing their once vast tribal nations were scattered and many disappeared.

The facilitator for the Blanket Exercise was Daisy Radigan, Divinity Minister and Talking Circle leader. Mi'kmaq musician and educator Cathy Elliott drummed and sang a song about “being together” said Ruth Cruikshank.

Kayla's younger sister, 11 year old Ella Cruikshank, a Grade 6 student at Glenbrook Elementary, also attended.

“There was tons of music and it was very interactive,” said Ella. “Many of us learned a lot and my grandpa Henderson played the role of the Christian European.”

An important recommendation coming out of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report last year called for a new and accurate school curriculum teaching the indigenous experience and their contributions to Canada.

The Blanket Exercise initiative is now being used to shed light on a very dark side of Canadian history inside Ontario classrooms.

“My thoughts about the blanket exercise are that it was a very unique and creative way to demonstrate what happened to the First Nations when the Europeans came to Canada,” said 13-year-old Sarah Bannon, a Grade 8 student at Glenbrook Elementary, who accompanied the Cruikshanks for the experience.

“The exercise had audience participation, music, and time to share your feelings,” she said. “It was a great learning opportunity for people of all ages and I am thankful that I went.”

All the girls agreed that the event made for “a very fun and educational afternoon.”

Sub-region representative for KAIROS Grey-Bruce, Wellington and Dufferin County Jim Lindsay says the event is “in keeping with KAIROS' strategic plan for 2016-2020.

“We are trying to encourage reconciliation, which means a change in attitude, increased education and a change in our relationship with indigenous peoples,” he said.


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