As a child, I learned nothing about residential schools or their painful legacy. We sang “Land of the silver birch, home of the beaver,” all of us in our Grade 1 class intoning boomdidi boom boom – boomdidi boom boom.
And so my generation in our suburban Canadian classrooms grew up in happy ignorance, a sorry state of affairs not even rectified in high school, when a healthy conversation about truth and reconciliation might have been had. But we’re having it now, across our country and across generations, and that’s a start.
National Indigenous Peoples Day celebrates the heritage, diverse cultures, and achievements of First Nations, Inuit, and Metis peoples, and it’s coming up on June 21. While a designated day does not a reconciliation make, it does serve as an annual focal point for acknowledgement of the Indigenous people on whose original lands we live.
In January of this year the Nelson Public Library partnered with Touchstones to host the Blanket Exercise, led by Indigenous community leaders Toni Appleby and Donna Wright. It was so eye-opening, so emotionally affecting, and so very important that we’re bringing it back for National Indigenous Peoples Day — Friday, June 21 at 7 p.m. at the library.
Using blankets to represent Indigenous lands pre-colonization, Toni and Donna guide participants through a historical timeline that illustrates how social and political changes have impacted Indigenous people. The Blanket Exercise presents an opportunity to consider where we’ve been and where we want to go as we live together on this land we all call home. Developed with Indigenous partners by the organization KAIROS, the Blanket Exercise has become an important tool for understanding and reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.
Since those innocent days of boomdidi boom boom-ing, I felt I had learned quite a bit about the effects of colonization on Canada’s First People. I’ve read fiction and non-fiction, watched films, followed the news on different platforms, and listened to oral testimony.
As heart-wrenching as that personal journey has been, the Blanket Exercise, when we did it in January, offered me a different and somehow more visceral understanding. It’s not scary — the Blanket Exercise creates a safe, supportive, friendly environment — but you should come expecting to learn things you didn’t know, and feel things in a new way. And you should come.
As important as the destination of Truth and Reconciliation may be, the journey is of equal importance. The Nelson library is happy to be a small part of that journey, as are public libraries across Canada.
The Canadian Federation of Library Associations struck a Truth and Reconciliation Committee in 2017 to address the myriad ways in which our colonial minds have done a disservice to the First Peoples of this country, from the way materials are collected, classified and archived, to our programming and the ways in which we help move the conversation forward.
As we approach National Indigenous Peoples Day, take a look around your library, situated as it is on traditional territory of the Ktunaxa, the Syilx, and the Sinixt peoples. You’ll be able to pick up reading lists in the library and online, and browse displays of books, CDs, and films to educate, engage, and inspire.
It’s always richer when we embrace the journey, hearts and eyes open. It’s even richer when we look around and realize we are all walking together.
Anne DeGrace is the adult services co-ordinator at the Nelson Public Library. Check This Out runs every other week.