Yesterday our church participated in the KAIROS Blanket Exercise. KAIROS is an ecumenical Christian group that focuses on social justice as an expression of faith. Bethany has not previously participated in education events that lift up the Aboriginal experience in Canada. So we were not sure what kind of response we would receive when we advertised this opportunity in the bulletin. In a previous church, where there was a lot of focus on Aboriginal issues the turn out for the blanket exercise had been less than 10, a very disappointing number. But yesterday we had 40 persons associated with Bethany, 20 adults and 20 youth. The interest was high, as I looked around the circle I saw engaged eyes, bodies leaning forward, people were very focused on whomever was speaking.
KAIROS sent four leaders, one of them was an Aboriginal Elder, Billy Lewis. The leaders guided us through this blanket exercise, using blankets as the land mass that once was inhabited entirely by Aboriginal communities. Scrolls were handed out randomly to participants, each one a narration on the treaties and statements that chronicled the relationship of Europeans who came to this land and the Aboriginal peoples who were here when they arrived. As each date moved closer and closer to the present I could sense a heavier and heavier sorrow in the circle. It was clear that while we all knew our ancestors had behaved in an arrogant and colonial fashion, thinking of others are “uncivilized” we were less conscious of these same attitudes and behaviours in our lifetimes.
In the blanket exercise we see persons representing Aboriginal communities moving off the blankets, the narrator would tell us that this was to identify those who had died as a result of the action taken by governments. As each person walked off the blanket and the words from the narrator hung in the air you could sense a feeling of deep sadness and shame.
It is absolutely clear that promises were made in these treaties that were never kept. Further, families were torn apart through the residential school and the 60’s scoop, leaving Aboriginal communities weaker, less aware of their own culture, indeed they were told their religion, their language and their culture was at best “less than” and at worst “evil”. Our European ancestors did this. There can be no doubt about this.
Where things stand today remains equally problematic. The clear message from the presentation was “action is required” and the various reports offered by Task Forces to remedy this injustice have not been acted upon. I believe that such actions are needed, necessary and just. But the damage has been profound and I worry that we may be setting expectations unreasonably high if indeed we ever do act on the various action plans.
What I pray for are Aboriginal communities that find their way to expressions of their traditions, wisdom and spirituality that nurture joyful living. Those of us from churches and political movements in this country that struggle with living in right relations with our Creation need healthy Aboriginal communities and their witness as never before. They can show us the way. I pray reconciliation, justice and joy-filled communities.