Blanket Exercise Raises Awareness of Painful Native American History

By Brett Hetherington*

There is an old adage that states: “Those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it.” Over the years this adage has proven to be true in America, especially when it comes to how minority groups are treated.

Firestone Park United Methodist Church (Canal District) hosted the KAIROS Blanket Exercise Team to share the history of Indigenous Peoples of this continent, and how the Church has contributed to their plight. The team for our exercise was composed of three women who all work with Indigenous People in Canada on a variety of levels. The leader of this team was Delvina Kejick, who shared her story and her search for her identity as a Cree woman. Story is an important tradition in Native culture and helps us be vulnerable and grow in our understanding. Kejick shared how she was a victim of the “Sixties Scoop” and the trauma caused by Canada removing Indigenous Children from their homes to place in foster care or to be adopted. Terri Lynn Cochrane shared the story of Turtle Island, a name for North America used by many Native Americans, and spoke of a story that gets little public attention, the fact that today many native women are kidnapped, tortured and killed. Kristin Elaine Kennedy walked the participants through what it means to be an ally to the Indigenous People in our midst. But the real meat of the day came when the Blanket Exercise started.

The Blanket Exercise is simple in its presentation. Several blankets are placed in the middle of the room and participants stand, walk and sit on those blankets. The participants become the people native to the land, and others who represent colonizers enter the space and run roughshod over the natives. The presentation is simple, but it is also immensely powerful. For just over an hour, participants walked through history ranging from Columbus’ discovery of the New World all the way through modern day society. Walking through the exercise was impactful for all involved, and there was not a dry eye left once the exercise was complete.

After the exercise, participants were invited to share their experience with one another, and to talk about where to go from this point. How can the modern-day Church partner with Indigenous People and work together? The question hangs powerfully in the air when asked, and each body is going to have some different answers depending upon their location and local population. But the answer does come back that there is something we all can do. We all are to work together.

Below you will see a video that is pieced together with a handful of moments from the Blanket Exercise. Take some time and watch it, listen to the story, and ask yourself “what can my church do? What can I do?”

If you have a story of how God is using your local church to transform the community, please contact us at eoccommunications@eocumc.com. The East Ohio Conference Communications team wants to tell your story.

*Brett Hetherington is the Communications specialist for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.