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The Kairos Blanket Exercise will now be part of the training for every RCMP cadet, like Matt Plaskett, left, and Habeeb Shah, who recently underwent the exercise at the RCMP Academy in Regina. Photo courtesy of RCMP

RCMP adopt new tool for reconciliation

  • January 13, 2018
REGINA, Sask. – Canada’s national police force has begun using Kairos’ Blanket Exercise in an effort to help its officers improve relations with Indigenous peoples.

Every Royal Canadian Mounted Police cadet will now be exposed to the Blanket Exercise during their training at the Regina-based RCMP Academy. The aim is to give officers a better understanding of Indigenous people and their history.

“It’s a history lesson, but it’s a participatory history lesson,” said Ed Bianchi, program manager with Kairos, the faith-based social justice organization of 10 Canadian churches — including the Catholic Church — and religious organizations.

For the exercise, participants adopt the roles of Indigenous people. They stand on blankets that represent the land and a narrator takes them through the eras of first contact with Europeans up to today and the issues confronting the relationship between Indigenous and settlers.

“So in an hour and a half the participants go through the history of the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada, they go through pre-contact, contact, colonization, resistance and at the end we deal with more contemporary issues like reconciliation,” said Bianchi.

The exercise, by sharing this history, creates healing and empathy.

“We call it a heart and mind exercise because not only are (participants) being educated about the history, they are also being helped, the exercise helps them to care about what they are learning,” said Bianchi. “It has the capacity to change the way people think about these issues.”

It’s no secret that relations between Indigenous people and police forces across Canada have been strained. Many issues are getting an airing at the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Inquiry that is criss-crossing the nation.

One of the main complaints is that police have failed to take the disappearance of Indigenous women seriously.

It wasn’t difficult to get the RCMP on board with the Blanket Exercise, said Bianchi. Kairos’ people in Alberta generated some interest among local RCMP officials, and that interest grew last spring as participants relayed positive feedback.

“They started getting more requests and eventually the frequency of those requests reached the national office.”

“Instructors agreed after completing the exercise that it will be a great tool to further educate and engage cadets in Indigenous history,” said Nathalie Fehr, the curriculum designer at the RCMP Academy.

Fehr said the RCMP has always provided training on how to deal with all kinds of cultures in Canada, including Indigenous people. But this exercise delivers the message in a different way.

“We thought it was a great way to present (the history) in a more creative way,” said Fehr.

Three troops have already undergone the exercise, and cadets have enjoyed the experience, she said. “It gives them tools and skills when they leave here, because it’s very close to the end of training, to take to their different detachment areas.”

Through its own assessment of the program, Kairos has seen the effect on the officers who have gone through the exercise. Bianchi said they now have a better understanding of the context when dealing with Indigenous people.

He noted one officer said he now knows to ask the right questions, such as instead of asking what’s wrong with the person, ask them instead where they are from and what happened to them. Bianchi said little nuances can make a world of difference in the interaction.

“It’s remarkable in the sense that (the Blanket Exercise) experience can make such a difference,” said Bianchi.
It’s a step in the right direction toward repairing the strained relationship, he added.

“Reconciliation happens in many places and takes many forms,” he said. “This is one example of what reconciliation looks like. It’s a tool that we’re using to start the conversation that’s required to bring about reconciliation.”

(Conlon is a writer in Regina.)

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