Tag Archives: Blanket Exercise

Reconciliation: We need a new story

Reconciliation is an important part of the Jan/Feb Faith Today. One of our writers, author and professor Mark Buchanan, mentions a ministry called New Story — one day seminars that help churches understand our relationship with  First Nations people. Mark shares more with us in this mini-interview.

Why did you use the name New Story?

The name New Story captures what we believe needs to happen with our relationship with Indigenous peoples. Most Canadians have been part of a story that is largely about hurt, suspicion, and avoidance. That story keeps perpetuating itself.  We need a new story that recognizes the past, no matter how awful or ugly, or how implicated in it we are, but which refuses to get stuck there. We need a story that moves us – all of us – toward a better future.

Read our cover story to find out more about this important take on reconciliation.

Can you tell us what a typical New Story day looks like?

We’ve so far held two New Story events, both shaped a little differently but with many of the same elements. Each has begun with First Nations protocols acknowledging our presence on traditional lands – for us in southern Alberta, that’s Treaty 7 Territory. An Indigenous Elder or Chief has then welcomed us and led in an opening prayer.

Both events have included several Indigenous and a few non-Indigenous plenary speakers and workshop presenters. These sessions have explored various topics – First Nations history, culture, worldview, dance, and themes of reconciliation or “where do we go from here?” In the second event, we used the Kairos “Blanket Exercise,” an imaginative journey, from an Indigenous perspective, through Canada’s history, from pre-colonialism to the present day.

Each event has also featured a First Nations talking circle in which participants are given an opportunity to share their experiences, good or bad, with others.

Is there a typical response you see from people who attend? Are they surprised to learn new facts and the real history?

Often people who attend a New Story event have had some exposure to the legacy of residential schools, or they know something of the history of colonialism, and they’ve come to learn more. But many are shocked, sometimes overwhelmingly, when they learn the fuller story: the harm, both systemic and personal, that churches, schools, governments, settler communities, individuals have brought upon indigenous peoples. There are a lot of tears. Often anger. Many participants repent – of stereotypes, of prejudices, of their actions or inaction in the past. Probably the most surprising part of a New Story event is watching Christians discover the depth and beauty of Indigenous cultures, and how these cultures in many ways are, not just compatible with the gospel, but a rich expression of it.

What are the most important things you want people to take away from a New Story day?

We want people to see Indigenous peoples and their cultures through a new lens, one that corrects previous stereotypes and prejudices, but that doesn’t simplify or minimize differences and complexities – that actually magnifies these things.

We emphasize our shared humanity, but we also highlight real and meaningful differences between peoples and cultures. This counteracts the tendency many of us have to try to reconcile with others by finding a lowest common denominator.

Frankly, that approach is part of the old story. What we are trying to do is find grounds for reconciliation in which no one is required to relinquish or distort their identity. That’s a new and better story.

We hope people come away with a commitment to lifelong and humble learning. We especially hope that many new friendships are born.


Thank you!

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Reconciliation involves listening. Blanket Exercise makes that easy.

I participated in my first Blanket Exercise recently on Parliament Hill.

The largest Blanket Exercise in Canada was held recently on Parliament Hill

I had heard of it only once before, when the earnest son of a friend, newly sensitized to Aboriginal issues, tried to walk his extended family through it at a barbecue, to mixed results. I knew it involved blankets and a history lesson, and in my friend’s case, an annoyed grandpa.

But it was much more than that.

Kairos Canada, who helps facilitate the exercise, describes it as a “participatory popular education methodology” with the goal of  building “understanding about our shared history as Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada by walking through pre-contact, treaty-making, colonization and resistance.” If you show up, you can be involved. The colourful blankets, in my case spread out beneath the stairs that lead up to the front doors of Parliament, represent pre-colonized Canada.

You’re invited to take your place on the blankets, and there it begins, a moving and enlightening walk-through of Canada’s history with our First Nations.

What struck me most, besides of course the realization of how much I don’t actually know  (or have forgotten) about my country’s own history, was the kindness of the facilitators. Volunteers strolled through the crowd offering kleenex to those moved to tears by the experience. Then, in a move that reminded me of Psalm 56:8 (God gathering our tears in a bottle), they collected the tissues back up again, because the tears were so important and not to be carelessly tossed aside.

Participants were warned they might find the exercise upsetting, learning in more detail than perhaps ever before about the harsh and sometimes fatal treatment of Indigenous peoples by the hand of government, Church, and history in general. But we were very kindly and gently asked to not feel shame or guilt, but to enter and exit the exercise with a healthy sense of hope and love for each other. It was about reconciliation. That beautiful spirit touched me as much as the actual shifting and sorting and bunching up of blankets that told this part of our history that we’d probably rather forget. But true reconciliation means remembering.

Next week, on Wednesday June 21, it is Aboriginal Day. If you can find some event in your community — maybe even a Blanket Exercise — to show your commitment to reconciliation and hope and love, try to attend.

Here at Faith Today, our Jul/Aug issue features an interview with Christine MacMillan, World Evangelical Alliance’s associate secretary general for public engagement. Here’s part of what she said about reconciliation in that soon to be published interview: “It’s being patient. It’s listening to the point where listening even of itself be- comes peace and reconciliation. It’s exploring “what will it take to bring peace?” – and as you explore in that way reconciliation starts to happen. The process is as important as the outcome. [Reconciliation doesn’t begin] until you get people feeling the trust in the room that allows them to tell the layers of their story. The Church must be that safe place, as well as that public place.”

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