At the 2019 CNSA National Conference we had the opportunity to participate in the KAIROS Blanket Exercise led by Heather Bensler, Director of Indigenous Initiatives at the University of Calgary, alongside Elder Adrian Wolfleg and a team of volunteer facilitators.
The KAIROS Blanket Exercise provides participants with the opportunity to consider pre-contact, treaty-making, colonization and resistance from the perspective of Indigenous peoples in Canada. A trained facilitator and volunteers created an immersive experience using props, characters and excerpts from historical documents. At the beginning of the exercise some participants were given coloured cards to wear around their necks. The meanings of these colours were revealed throughout the exercise, corresponding to harms that Indigenous peoples experienced as a result of colonization. For example, some participants died of malnourishment during forced attendance at residential schools. The immersive nature of the exercise prompted participants to reconsider their understanding of Canadian history at both an intellectual and emotional level.
After the immersive portion, we spent time debriefing in small groups. Led by Heather and Adrian, we discussed our reactions to the exercise, sharing insights gained from the experience and talking about how we can contribute to reconciliation going forward. It was moving to hear participants speak with honesty and vulnerability about biases and misconceptions that were challenged by this experience. Participants were Indigenous and Non-Indigenous nursing students from across Canada, which provided an extraordinary opportunity to bring together a variety of perspectives in a supportive environment. The room felt alive with a genuine desire to do better as a collective, and we feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to participate.
Interestingly, we learned that all University of Calgary nursing students participate in the KAIROS blanket exercise as part of the core nursing curriculum. This is part of the Faculty of Nursing’s response to the Calls to Action in the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation of Commission of Canada’s final report. Given the transformational power of experiential learning to enhance participants’ understanding of complex issues and to build empathy, we applaud the University of Calgary Faculty of Nursing for instituting the Blanket Exercise as part of their curriculum and would love to see our faculty take up the Calls to Action in a similar way.
Lindsey Lenters & Alex Nunn
Second-Year BScN Students
The University of Calgary Faculty of Nursing’s Indigenous Initiatives website:
Information about the KAIROS Blanket Exercise: