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Reflecting on the Blanket Exercise: How did U of A students view the experience?

Tansi Nîtôtemtik,


This week we’re talking about the education of law students and legal professionals, regarding reconciliation and related issues. This year, first-year law students were invited to Enoch Cree Nation on September 12, to participate in the educational experience of the blanket exercise.

Photo Credit: Jason Franson, https://www.ualberta.ca/folio/2022/09/law-students-take-eye-opening-trip-through-indigenous-legal-history.html


The blanket exercise is a powerful interactive experience that visually and verbally explains the history of colonization in the country called Canada, and attempts to garner a deeper understanding of the impacts of colonization.


This video provides an example of a blanket exercise: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EyEgWwZHBBM.[1]


To get a better sense of how the blanket exercise has impacted current law students and future legal professionals, I reached out to some fellow-students.


One second-year student stated that participating in the blanket exercise “was one of the most impactful events in [their] first year of law school,” and that it “has broadened how [they] think about Indigenous legal systems.” They expressed that the immersive experience left “an imprint that can’t be matched by reading about the history of colonialism.”


Another second-year student expressed their appreciation for being invited to Enoch Cree territory, and for the opportunity to hear from members of the community. They stated that they loved the visit, and thought that the whole experience was an important way to centre Indigenous culture, history, and reconciliation; especially when these topics seem to be treated as peripheral in law school. This student also liked that the experience “taught [law students] right from the beginning what the TRC requires from lawyers, and the importance of educating ourselves to fulfill those obligations.” They also wished that there could be another opportunity to participate in the exercise again, when law school is coming to a close, and they will soon be entering the legal profession.


The next student I reached out to had a similar experience. They found that “seeing and hearing the story as [they] walked through a visual representation of the land really helped [them] understand how Indigenous peoples were affected” by colonization. They also expressed that the talking circle after the blanket exercise “was a great opportunity to address the emotions that came up during the exercise,” and to hear the experiences of the other students.


These views were great to hear, but from an Indigenous perspective, there were some mixed feelings.


One Indigenous student expressed that it was a valuable experience, and that the blanket exercise gave them “time to reflect and connect with the past in a deeper way.” For them, the most valuable part was the way that “the blanket exercise brings us from the past into the future,” as “we not only hear of the colonialism faced by Indigenous people throughout history, but also about how Indigenous people have resisted and continue to fight for cultural resurgence.”


For another Indigenous student, parts of the exercise “felt kind of awkward” as they “noticed a lot of people not following the rules and not taking care of where not to step.” This student “got the feeling that not everyone wanted to learn or be a part of the process,” but also noticed “that some did take the exercise seriously and wanted to be a part of it.” They also saw that some students needed to be reminded of the rules before following them properly.


This student feels that the motivation behind inviting non-Indigenous students to take part in the exercise is “to foster some kind of empathy and understanding of the oppressive policies that were and are directed at Indigenous people,” and “to educate some students on Indigenous issues.” However, they also believe that there can be a major disconnect regarding empathy when non-Indigenous Canadians have not experienced the same “racism, oppression, or intergenerational trauma” as Indigenous peoples, and “see the world differently.” They “notice this [disconnect] a lot,” and “cannot help but feel the inequality” here, because “Indigenous history is often seen as unimportant, being told to just get over it.”


This student is not sure of the overall impact of one small exercise, as “not all non-Indigenous students are open to [revising] their perceptions on Indigenous issues.” But, they still believe these types of activities are important, as they promote empathy through the opportunity to walk in another’s shoes.


The positive accounts of the blanket exercise make me hopeful for our future. They make me hopeful for advancement in the legal profession when it comes to working with Indigenous peoples and issues. However, as one of the students above shared, I know not every person takes the experience seriously, or participates with respect. Not every person is open, and not every person wants to hear the truth about Canada’s history. To me, this only reinforces the idea that we need more education about Indigenous peoples.


I hope that schools across the country continue to implement educational tools such as the blanket exercise, and that we don’t stop there.


Until next time,

Team Reconcili-ACTION YEG


[1] Rocky View Schools, “‘The Blanket Exercise’ – Indigenous Perspectives” (12 June 2018) online (video): YouTube < https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EyEgWwZHBBM>.

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