An image shared by KAIROS Canada shows a participant in the organization's blanket exercise.
Canada Day celebrations organized by the City of Yellowknife on Monday will, for the first time, feature a staging of the blanket exercise at City Hall.
Described as a “unique, interactive, and participatory history lesson,” the exercise provides an insight into the experience of Indigenous peoples as participants walk on blankets representing the land of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis groups.
Facilitator-led exercises simulate life pre-contact, treaty-making, colonization, and resistance, over the course of about an hour – followed by a talking circle.
Blankets are folded or taken away over time to reduce the available territory, while some participants are removed as the exercise continues – simulating those lost to smallpox and other diseases, residential schools, and other forms of trauma.
“It transitions throughout the years of what’s going on in North America and how us, the people, and colonialism have affected that,” said Dave Zethof, the City’s special events coordinator.
Though the exercise has not previously featured among Yellowknife’s Canada Day activities, it has been staged in the city before.
In 2017, a blanket exercise participant at a Yellowknife church told the CBC: “I think it’s a really important thing for all of us to try to engage in things we don’t necessarily know about, and learn more about them – because that helps to break down differences and helps you come more closely linked to people and places that you are not part of.”
A participant at a similar exercise in Fort Smith said: “I knew the history of Indigenous people but when you actually hear what people said they wanted to do, like wipe out First Nations by sharing infected blankets, it is awful.”
KAIROS, the organization that created the blanket exercise, has in the past quoted politician Georges Erasmus – born in Behchokǫ̀ – to explain why it believes the exercise is important.
“Where common memory is lacking,” Erasmus once said, “where people do not share in the same past, there can be no real community. Where community is to be formed, common memory must be created.”
The blanket exercise on Canada Day will begin at City Hall at 9am. The City says the event is free but registration, via the City’s website, is required.
Also on Monday, a free event at Somba K’e Park from 12pm till 6pm will feature food, family activities, and live music from the likes of Digawolf, Wesley Hardisty, and Welders Daughter.
The annual Canada Day parade, organized by the Rotary Club of Yellowknife, starts at the Ruth Inch Memorial Pool at 11am and proceeds to Sir John Franklin High School.