Professional Development

Blanket Exercise

Workshop for RRC Polytech Employees

The workshop design was developed by KAIROS in collaboration with Indigenous Elders, knowledge keepers and educators. The workshop itself is trademarked by Kairos, but the historical content taught within is not owned by anyone – it is Canada’s history.

Red River College Polytechnic is exploring a Memorandum of Understanding with KAIROS to capture the principles of partnership with the KAIROS model. For more information about the history of the workshop, visit the KAIROS webpage.

Frequently Asked Questions

I took a two-hour version of this workshop in the past. Why is this a longer version?

KAIROS provides the foundation for the workshop but organizations are welcome to develop materials to meet additional learning outcomes.

Red River College Polytechnic has adopted a customized format, which includes initial reflection for participants to help them identify their biases and uncover their intentions for the day, followed by additional emphasis on pre-contact histories including teachings on the Ojibway clan systems and the historical account of Treaties that were negotiated with the Crown.

Lunch will be served as a continuum of the simulations. It incorporates aspects of Treaty-making processes which focus on building and maintaining good relations.

Finally, we spend considerable time at the end of the workshop in the de-brief circle with an Elder and other supports to create a  space for processing, reflection, release, and to consider next steps. This is critical to ensuring a positive and healing experience, as well as hope for the future.

Who is it for and what can I expect from this workshop?

This workshop is for all RRC Polytech employees. This may be unlike any other workshop you have taken. The exercise brings participants into a simulation of the Colonization of Canada, and involves role-playing. This allows participants to relate to the history that they are learning from a first-person perspective. Everyone role-plays at the same time. The best experience will come from a personal willingness to be open to the perspective of the person you are asked to simulate during the workshop.

To start the day, participants will gather in a large circle and experience a smudge ceremony led by an Elder along with the significance and cultural teachings. Where a smudge is not possible, the lead facilitator describes the purpose of a smudge which is followed by a self-assessment activity.

Participants then participate in a series of history lessons and activities including a short personal reflection to help them become present and ready for the day. This leads into a bartering activity where participants will trade items. Following this, lunch is provided and participants are invited to continue their clan simulations over their feast.

Following lunch, the Blanket Exercise begins. Participants will walk barefoot on blankets representing the land and roles of First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples by reading scrolls and carrying cards, which ultimately determine their outcomes as they literally “walk” through an experience of colonization to present day. Trained facilitators assume the roles of European settlers and explorers and a lead facilitator or knowledge keeper guides the experience.

The day concludes with a talking circle de-brief that allows participants time to discuss the learning experience, process their feelings, ask questions, share insights and deepen their understanding.

Why is so much emphasis put on the de-brief talking circle?

This is a holistic learning experience that can challenge a person’s thoughts, feelings and belief systems, whether you are Indigenous or non-Indigenous. For this reason, we are making every effort to create the space needed, before and after, to understand the impacts of this simulation experience. For Indigenous peoples, the content can re-stimulate and draw up painful memories or emotions. For non-Indigenous peoples, this experience can challenge your thoughts, beliefs or attitudes. We have to keep in mind that this is a truth-telling experience meant to lead us towards a path of reconciliation.

That is why we are using trauma-informed practices to engage participants, which include the supports we provide, the pre-teaching and post-debriefing session. The goal is to understand our individual and perspectives and to see where we are being challenged or what we aim to do with what is learned or experienced.

For others, the workshop can bring up feelings of remorse and deep sadness about Canada’s history and legacy. For these reasons, extra care is put into ensuring that space for support and reflection can occur at the end of the exercise and if needed, beyond.

Why is there a combination of Indigenous and Non-Indigenous facilitators?

KAIROS recommends that both Indigenous and Non-Indigenous individuals co-facilitate the Blanket Exercise. This representation is an important way to model and build upon reconciliation and healing that is fostered within the workshop itself. An Indigenous facilitator should always take the primary lead role in the session, however.

What is trauma-informed care and why is it important with the Blanket Exercise?

Klinic Community Health Centre explains that “trauma is so prevalent that service providers should naturally assume that many of the people to whom they provide services have, in some way or another, been affected by trauma”.  This holds true for participants in the Blanket Exercise, many of whom may have been directly or indirectly affected by the history that is simulated in the workshop. Facilitators must be sensitive to the understanding that “fight, flight and freeze” responses can occur for people who have experienced trauma, which can render a person unable to absorb the intended learning. It is also about being sensitive to the possibility of re-traumatization occurring for individuals during the simulation. For more information, read the Trauma Informed Handbook from Klinic.

Understanding the need for trauma-informed approaches in the Blanket Exercise goes a long way to delivering a safe and supportive workshop for all participants.

How do I register for The Blanket Exercise?

To see available session dates and register for The Blanket Exercise, visit the ENGAGE page, under the heading Inclusive Workplace.