The Blanket Exercise is a powerful tool for strengthening Indigenous-Settler relationships

Written by Adam Kline

There is an apathy in our hearts, oftentimes, an indifference to those with another path or perspective. We don’t necessarily wish our neighbour ill, but we don’t care enough to stand alongside them, to listen or learn, and expand our understanding of their story.

Looking back on my life, I see this apathy as the silent status quo in the churches and communities I was surrounded by, particularly when it came to the lived-experience of Indigenous neighbours. I didn’t realize that the suffering and disparity that generations endured wasn’t just an account of the ancient past, but a disturbing reality that continues today. As someone of Anglo-Settler descent, when I was young, I didn’t really know that “their” story is, in fact, a shared story.

The history books I was taught growing up, like the history books of all ages and eras, told the perspectives of the powerful, the records collected by the colonizers. The history books many Canadians were brought up on rarely, if ever, included the voices of those who are oppressed, imprisoned, and persecuted.

We can’t say the same thing about the Christian Scriptures.

The Bible is a story of the oppressed. The God of Israel revealed Himself and His own divine nature when He selected slaves as the recipients of His covenant. He entrusted His message and mission to a people perceived as little more than property.

This is why it’s important to ask, when we understand and embrace our own history: Whose voices and experiences have been excluded from the story?

This is why I am grateful for the Blanket Exercise. The Blanket Exercise is an interactive history lesson that tells the story of how we went from a time when Indigenous people lived on all the land we now call Canada, to a time when land reserved for Indigenous people makes up less than half of one per cent of Canada’s landmass. The Blanket Exercise recounts our history and invites us all to take responsibility for a shared story.

The exercise was created in response to the 1996 Royal Commission of Aboriginal Peoples. This commission had 400 recommendations, and in response to these recommendations a group of Indigenous elders, educators, and allies created an interactive history lesson.

After 25 years, the Blanket Exercise is finally being embraced and becoming part of the national narrative. Public schools, municipalities and institutions are now asking for its inclusion in their curriculum and professional development plans.

In my own ministry context, I have the privilege and honour of joining with Indigenous voices to facilitate the Blanket Exercise for faith-based groups and Christian congregations. The exercise (which usually takes a couple of hours) is heavy; it should not be entered into lightly. And yet, it is undeniably powerful.

Within the Christian contexts that I have been invited into, because we present it in a prayerful manner and understand its necessity for our own spiritual formation, the Holy Spirit never fails to touch hearts and renew minds.

My frequent partner in ministry is Jonathan Maracle (a Mohawk from the Tyendinaga Territory). For over thirty years, Jonathan has been ministering across North America and around the world, with his band, Broken Walls. Through testimony, stories, songs and a powerful reclamation of Indigenous culture and expression when worshipping Jesus, Jonathan is regularly building bridges between Indigenous and non-Indigenous groups. Relationships like these are what makes reconciliation possible.

The Blanket Exercise is an essential tool; it gives voice to those who have been pushed out and oppressed, but when we enter into it through relationships, and with a Christlike humility, the work of truth and reconciliation can get a hold of us in profound and transformative ways.

History that has been ignored for far too long can become a shared story, and we can begin to see a hope for tomorrow, together. Or as Jonathan Maracle sings in his song, Now Is The Time, “It’s a time to forgive. It’s a time to be forgiven. No more broken promises. It’s a call to all people. To join our hands together. And sing a new song.”