The KAIROS Blanket Exercise was hosted at Lakeland College in Vermilion on February 22.
Held in partnership by CLASS and Asokanihkewak (they Build Bridges), the workshop led by Kevin John and Debbie Semeniuk allowed participants to get involved in learning about historical and contemporary relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada. Many had emotional experiences throughout the exercise and the sharing circle that followed. Several artifacts were used to represent Indigenous cultures, and blankets were used to represent the northern part of Turtle Island (Canada).
“Some people believe that half of the Indigenous population at the time died of Tuberculosis, Small Pox, and other diseases. In some communities nine out of 10 people died (and not always accidentally),” said John.
“By 1956, one seventh of the entire Inuit population was being treated for Tuberculosis (TB) while one third overall was affected. Many children were sent south to be treated; some never to return. In 2010, the TB rate for Inuit remained 185 times higher than for Canadian born non-Indigenous,” added Semeniuk.
The presentation continued to share facts about the loss of Indigenous rights, assimilation, residential schools, children having been taken and placed elsewhere, and intergenerational impacts.
“Many experienced violence, racism, and abuse. We would like to applaud the young, Indigenous leaders who are making a positive difference,” said John.
He went on to say that Indigenous land now represents less than one half of one per cent of the Canadian land mass. He also noted that in 2011, over half of the water distribution on those lands was deemed unsafe for human health.
“The suicide rate is twice the national average for Indigenous people, and even higher for Inuit,” said John.
“According to Statistics Canada, in 2009, Indigenous women were 3.5 times more likely to experience violence as non-Indigenous women in Canada. Over 1,000 Indigenous women had been documented missing or murdered in the past 30 years according to a 2014 RCMP report,” said Semeniuk.
Overall, participants were happy to have been involved in the session for what they learned about Canadian history and what they could do going forward. John suggested that one way for people to move towards reconciliation would be for non-Indigenous and Indigenous people to connect with one another personally.