Monday, February 12, 2018

Sunday reflection on a Monday: No one is an outcast

Image result for Blanket exerciseOn Saturday, I attended a Blanket Exercise held at a local community league. It was a deeply moving experience that isn't easy to moodle about (hence my Sunday reflection has taken me longer than usual), but I really want to share it here and to encourage any of my readers who haven't experienced the Blanket Exercise to do so.

About two dozen people, a third of them of Aboriginal descent, gathered Saturday afternoon to walk through Canadian history as experienced by the First Nations people of Canada. We spread blankets on the floor to represent the land, and all of us who stood together on the blankets represented Inuit, Metis, and Aboriginal people who lived on the land before colonialism. One facilitator narrated the exercise, while another represented the Europeans who came to Canada beginning in the early 1600s.

Each one of us represented a 'sovereign nation' at the beginning of the exercise, and we mixed and mingled, trading and exchanging with other 'sovereign nations.' When Europeans came, we shared knowledge with them, helping them to survive our harsh winters and discover the abundance of wildlife and food sources in a new land. But the newcomers brought smallpox, which killed many (I 'died' only 5 minutes into the exercise).

Soon European settlers began over-hunting and trapping some animals to near extinction, sending the land's wealth to their countries across the oceans. It wasn't long before they were calling Aboriginal people 'uncivilized' and changing the rules so that all land not being used for 'civilized' purposes belonged to them. And when Aboriginal children were taken from their families to be 'civilized' in Residential Schools, and those who survived were pushed to the margins of Canadian life, whole generations lost their family ties, sense of culture, and self worth.

I am not of First Nations descent -- I am a grandchild of European settlers. So this journey through history according to how First Nations people experienced it was more than eye-opening. The word 'civilize' took on very negative connotations in a hurry, a near equivalent of 'exploit.' And after a week of listening to news reports about ugly racism surrounding the murder trial of Colten Bouchie, the afternoon had even more of an impact when one of our group told us she came from Biggar, Saskatchewan during our post-exercise talking circle. But that's a whole other story that isn't mine to tell. Let's just say that becoming more aware of some of the many injustices that have been dealt to Aboriginal people was overwhelming...

I went from the Blanket Exercise to church,  where Mark's gospel (1:40-45) made it clear that according to Jesus, everyone is to be treated with equity and justice. Jesus reached out and touched the man with leprosy, letting him know he was an important member of the community. The lepers of Jesus' time were outcasts because of fear of their disease. And First Nations people are on the margins of our society now because colonizers and their descendants didn't bother to even try to understand them or their way of life. It's one thing to be quarantined, but it's another to be ostracized. Jesus knew the difference and used his ability to heal to restore community. And we are called to do the same.

Our First Nations sisters and brothers have many reasons to resent all the non-aboriginal peoples who have come to Canada over the last 400 years. Our prejudice, and our blindness to the inter-generational trauma they are still experiencing from being forced onto reserves and into residential schools are only a few of many issues that should be enough to break our hearts and open us to compassion and a deep desire to heal our relationship. The Blanket Exercise made it clear that there is still much to do for true reconciliation to happen. And it starts with each one of us. We are all called to reach out and touch those who have been treated like outcasts the way Jesus did.

During the Blanket Exercise, as I heard the mounting evidence of mistreatment and abuse of Aboriginal people at the hands of European colonizers, I felt deeply that, as a privileged European descendant, it should be my turn to be outcast by the Aboriginal members of the post-exercise talking circle. They had every right to be angry, and I felt afraid to approach them because I didn't know what to say or how to apologize. But because the First Nations people in our circle already knew the hurt caused by injustice and marginalization, they didn't wish it on me. They just wanted healing, and were so grateful to everyone who came to share in their story. So I shouldn't have been surprised when two beautiful Aboriginal women came and hugged me first.

No one is an outcast when reconciliation really takes hold.

If you haven't been to a Blanket Exercise yet, I can't recommend it enough. For more information about Blanket Exercises, click here.

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