Facilitator brings the Indigenous experience to life with a blanket

Michelle Nieviadomy describes the sessions she facilitates as the most interactive history classes around.

Using blankets to represent the land, Nieviadomy gets participants to act out Canada’s history, to explain the historical experience of Indigenous peoples.

“It’s a history lesson that brings the whole Indigenous story and narrative of the history of Canada to the forefront,” said Nieviadomy. “It’s a great visual to really see it firsthand and everybody’s engaged.”

The sessions are new to REACH Edmonton’s training in 2016 and are offered on an in-service basis to frontline service providers.

The exercise starts with a sharing circle, introduction and briefing about the exercise.

“All these blankets are in the middle of the circle and I’ll take one person aside who will play the settler. Everybody who’s on the blanket is representing the original people,” she said.

Historical policies from settlers, the Vatican and eventually the Government of Canada are explained, with the people on the blankets rearranging themselves to reflect the policy.

“There’s a distinct turning point in this narrative,” said Nieviadomy. “Most people now have an understanding of residential schools but there’s a lot that happened before residential schools. The history that led up to residential schools.”

The effect that policies have had on the people is visually evident as the session progresses.

“By the time we’re done the exercise you’ll see the blankets are small and the landmass is smaller and it’s all chopped up,” she said. “You see this displacement - the injustice - of what happened to Indigenous people.

The group will debrief and discuss how the effects of colonization can be seen in our communities today.

“ I think having an understanding is really important,” said Nieviadomy. “Racism is still alive and well, in underlying comments like ‘why can’t you get over this’.”

Her vision of success is that participants change the way they see their community, and share their new view with the people in their lives.

“I always hope that people will take what they have learned and carry it into their work or have conversations or tell other people,” she said. “This is not a First Nations issue this is Canada’s issue. This is all of our story.”

Nieviadomy stresses that reconciliation isn’t about placing blame but finding a way to a positive future together.

It’s our story and it’s the truth,” she said. “How do we walk out of this? We have to do it together. We want to walk well together on this land.”