March 31st 2016 was an emotional day for me, after my first class of the day. I decided to go with Keith Adolph, the Teacher Preparation Center coordinator and Dr. Micheal Cappello, a University of Regina professor who has a strong passion for reconciliation, to an hour of learning about the unmarked graves of Residential School victims. This was one of the hardest things I have ever done, which considering the week I just had, is pretty scary.
When I arrived with other university students I was not sure what to expect, even though I have lived in Regina for four years, I barely venture much past the University and my house, I had never even heard of Pinkie Road until I learned about these graves. I do not know which is worse, the fact that earlier this day I was unaware of a place in Regina, or the fact that I had no idea that there were unmarked graves in Regina. I knew that there were Residential Schools in Regina, but I am still learning to get over my own obliviousness and realize that Saskatchewan is not the enlightened and happy place that I once thought it was, not everything in this province is innocent, and that it is possible people whom I know, and their older generations had a role in many of the inequalities that have become part of Canada/Saskatchewan’s history, present and future.
The area of the unmarked graves was only identified by on old, thin, white fence. In the enclosed space there were a few trees, a lot of old, moldy looking teddy bears and two gravestones. I have been to a lot of cemeteries in my 21 years of life, but this is the only one where I have ever felt truly uncomfortable. It took me a while to realize that the teddy bears were left to keep the children who died in Residential Schools comfort, they did not get to be recognized with head stones, no one knew their names, and there was no solid number of how many people had been buried in this area, an area that is not much bigger than my own bedroom. Keith and Dr. Capelleo were told there were at least 15 bodies of Residential School victims buried, but they have heard evidence which states there is likely way more.
We were free to roam the area, placing apples to honour the victims, as well as say prayers, or have moments of silence. I have been to many cemeteries, there are two rules that have been drilled into me from a young age, you do not walk on the graves and you do not run in a cemetery. These rules are pretty basic and easy to follow, EXCEPT WHEN YOU HAVE N IDEA WHERE THE GRAVES ARE, there is literally no markings, the area is uneven which created the questions of, what are the chances that the land was this uneven when the children were buried, or is this a result of multiple bodies in a single grave site, and are these shallow graves. The people in these graves are children, they had parents, siblings, people who loved them, were these people even notified, could their deaths have been preventable, why is there no record of these children and their deaths?
After I finished realizing how horrid and wrong so much of the history of Canada is, people allowed this to happen, at some point the government actually condoned and celebrated the idea of Residential Schools.
As bad a 100 years of Residential schools are, imagine centuries of Colonialism that has occurred in Canada, which has essentially been the foundation that Canada has been built on, the second part of my day was taking the Blanket Exercise Training. The Blanket Exercise is an interactive experience which explores the colonial history of Canada, including but much more than the Residential Schools.
The Blanket Exercise is something that you can do with any class from grade 4-12, with a kit intended for grade 8-12, and another one for 4-7, however I have used the senior kit with grade 7s and it worked just fine. The lesson should be started with a discussion that will review terms, then you can start the exercise, you will need at least two facilitators who are familiar with the script. Once the exercise is done it is recommended you have a talking circle that will discuss how the students are feeling and what they think about the events that are part of Canada’s hidden history. The lesson will take approximately two hours to do it justice and get the full impact.
The kits are available through Kiaros, the organization that create the Blanket Exercise. It is something that can be linked in with many curriculum outcomes, but you need to prepare students in advance, it is also recommended that you participate in a Blanket Exercise before facilitating one.