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Reflections on the May 13 Blanket Exercise: Remembering (unforgetting) 450 years+ of Indigeneous History

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Indigenous Peoples’ Blanket Exercise

The Blanket Exercise acknowledges what has been buried by honoring the truth.

Blanket Exercise Participants“Opening our eyes and unforgetting the past” was the theme of the recent Blanket Exercise, designed to help participants understand how colonization of the land has impacted the people who lived here before Columbus and other settlers arrived.

On May 13 at First English Lutheran Church on Ballard Road, nearly 70 participants gathered for the Blanket Exercise to build understanding about our shared history as Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. Blankets arranged on the floor represented the land before the arrival of Europeans.  Everyone stepped onto blankets that represent the land, and took the role of the Indigenous peoples. As I listened to the history from pre-contact, treaty-making, colonization and resistance, I could see the people and the land disappear. At the end of the exercise only a few people remained on the blankets. Going through this visible history of eliminating people and stealing land was an intellectual and emotional experience.

Blanket exercise talking circleAfter the exercise, small groups were brought together in traditional Talking Circles to allow us to debrief from the experience. People shared new learnings, feelings, and understandings that affected them.

We were then invited to a traditional Indigenous meal of healing, prepared by Lizette Bailey of Waqsecewan Indigenous Catering (Menominee) as a culmination of the morning. The menu contained, as she said, foods from ‘BC’ — ‘before Columbus.’ Among the dishes we enjoyed was an amazing wild rice and berry salad from the Menominee. “Wild Rice” in the Menominee language is manoomin, so the crop and food gave its name to the people.

Here are additional reflections from two of the nearly 70 participants:

“The blanket exercise was very powerful for me not only because of the information shared as to what we did to our Indigenous family members throughout our history, but specifically because of the way blankets are used in the exercise. It was a very visceral one for me. Representing peoples from Indigenous nations, and being asked to leave our blankets (repesenting lands taken away through various colonial atrocities) was most powerful. Sharing an Indigenous meal capped off the memorable experience.”—Gary Crevier

“The image that remains in front and center of my mind’s eye is the photo of an Indigenous woman lying down, her body covered with scabs of smallpox, as she nurses her baby. We learned through the exercise that settlers and military personnel deliberately infected Indigenous people with smallpox by distributing contaminated blankets. One of many, many horrific examples of warfare on Native people. Let us remember and let us live every day with actions and relationships that are authentic with respect, honor, and value for all Indigeneous people.”—Connie Kanitz

First English Lutheran Church’s Racial Equity Team, the Green Sanctuary Justice Action Team of the Fox Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, the Indigenous Peoples’ Allies Committee (IPAC) of the First Congregational United Church of Christ and ESTHER were the proud sponsors of this exercise, which was presented by the Alliance for Justice of Black River Falls, WI.

If you missed this experience, be sure to watch for when another opportunity is offered to our community. Participating in this exercise can be a tremendous help as we continue to work to build the Beloved Community.

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