Between two worlds

By Geoff Lee

February 16, 2017 12:00 AM

EMOTIONAL A blanket exercise to tell the history of Canada's indigenous peoples since contact with Europeans, was an emotional one for Vikki Laliberte, centre, who is comforted by coordinator. Glenda Bristow, left, from Frog Lake First Nation and community participant, Trisha Rawlake, superintendent of curriculum for LPSD who reads a script. The event took place Feb. 14 at Lloydminster Comprehensive High School. GEOFF LEE LLS PHOTO

Community members and students from Lloydminster Comprehensive High School learned to walk between the two worlds of Canada’s indigenous and non indigenous history.
The feat was accomplished at LCHS on Feb. 14 by taking part in what’s called a blanket exercise that steps directly on emotional mine fields like colonization, broken treaties and residential schools.
It brought tears to the eyes of Vikki Laliberte who teaches indigenous studies to Grade 4 students at Jack Kemp School in the Lloydminster Public School Division.
In particular, a script read by LPSD participant, Trisha Rawlake about a saying from a little indigenous girl touched a raw nerve.
“My family’s gone through this—my mom—she has about 14 brothers and sisters and they’ve been through residential schools; I grew up in foster care,” said Laliberte.
Laliberte was comforted by program coordinator, Glenda Bristow from Frog Lake First Nation, who came to mentor LCHS teacher Denae Bruce how to deliver the blanket exercise in a narrator role.
Bristow has done the exercise 24 times and played the historical role of the colonizer.
“The goal of the exercise is to highlight First Nation history from pre contact to now and all the colonization that has happened and how that has impacted First Nations today,” explained Bristow.
“It will give the ah-ha moment and understand why First Nations live the way they do now.”
Denae noted the blanket exercise is in keeping with the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report released on Dec. 15 with 94 calls to action.
“As a community, we have been challenged to further the calls to action that are identified in the report,” said Denae.
“It’s really important for us to come together as a community and for our indigenous youth to be participating in it.”
It’s billed as an interactive teaching tool that highlights the historic relationships between indigenous and non indigenous people in Canada.
It allows people to have a hand-on experience to enhance their understandings of indigenous history.
Blankets placed on the floor represent the land that indigenous people first had and as time goes by, the blankets get lifted by participants to show the loss of land along with indigenous rights.
The participants included Mayor Gerald Aalbers who all read scripts about European and indigenous people’s interactions dating back 500 years.
“I think it was very emotional, there was a lot of sharing from both indigenous and non indigenous people,” said Aalbers.
“I think as a non indigenous individual coming from a European background, I am not too proud of what the Europeans did and the Government of Canada.”
Bristow handed out an assortment of miniature indigenous objects such as rattles, travios, snowshoes and baby moss bags to comfort the players.
The blanket exercise is the one that LCHS has organized for community leaders with the goal to train students to run the program themselves and introduce them to genuine indigenous artifacts.
Fayla Lins, a Gr. 12 student from Onion Lake, said her group had been practicing in advance of the event at Lakeland College and thinks it’s impactful.
“You are able to see how the blankets get smaller and how the land gets taken away,” she said.
“It really hits home.”
The history lesson took about an hour to complete and wrapped up with a circle discussion of what it meant to each participant.
“It was very meaningful,” said David Thompson, LPSD board chair.
“We read about these things in books and papers and magazines, but the graphic representation of what happened was very powerful.”
Chrissy Gee, a LPSD trustee thought it was a great presentation about a part of our history that we knew little about until recently.
“It’s only been the last few years that it’s been talked about,” she said.

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