Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Bridging the Gap Conference 2015 (guest blogger Andrew J Pratt)



I attended a conference, March 4-7, 2015, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, entitled Bridging the Gap through Canadian Roots Exchange. The purpose was to bridge the gap between indigenous youth and non-indigenous youth by discussing the issues and problems facing them in their various communities.

Canadian Roots Exchange Youth Conference 2015
On the first day there was a youth panel to answer some questions.  The conference had numerous keynote speakers who I thought were very informative and had inspiring points of views. An aboriginal elder was present to provide words of wisdom.

There were also workshops featuring various subjects such as poetry, how we got here, media biases, story telling, and the Nechi life game, among others. But the one workshop that impressed me and stood out from the others was the history lesson of indigenous peoples demonstrated by using blankets. It was both experiential and transformational.

It is called the Blanket Exercise. The blankets represented lands and the impact of European contact on indigenous peoples. It demonstrated through interactive storytelling, as blankets begin to disappear, how the indigenous peoples lost their land, how they were killed off or if they survived had to live on small and substandard areas of land. And, eventually how many children were removed from their land to attend residential schools where they were treated horrifically, which resulted in the loss of language and culture.

Josh lewis, Gabrielle Fayant, and 3 other facilitators of the blanket exercise, Winnipeg 2015
It would be a good idea to have participants bring in their own blankets so that they feel like they have an even closer tie to their land. Another key element of the exercise is after each time someone died there was a brief moment of silence to commemorate his or her legacy.  Afterwards many of the youth admitted that they were never taught this version of history in their schools as the teachers were only educated in the non-indigenous version of First Nations' history. An interesting point was the reaction by some youth who felt it was their fault that this had happened. The youth participants were emotionally touched and some could not hold back their tears.

I felt the blanket exercise is very powerful, informative and effective. Which is why I believe this should be part of the school curriculum.  Once students are taught history from an indigenous perspective they can better understand the notion of displacement and being disenfranchised. After the students are taught they will return to their own communities and educate others who know only one version of indigenous history.

The conference this year had garnered tons of media attention, especially because of a McLean's article that was published stating Winnipeg was the most racist city.  Furthermore, the location of the conference, which was held at Children of the Earth High School was easily accessible to the public and to the media outlets. Hopefully future conferences can acquire similar attention.

This was the third annual youth conference by Canadian Roots Exchange and each year more and more youth attend. I believe that it will continue to grow in future conferences. It is important to continue the conversation surrounding bridging the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous youth nationwide. In fact, it would be perfect if the youths who come from across Canada were equally balanced in numbers between indigenous and non-indigenous youth, it would create a perfect teaching forum and an exchange of information sharing and learning.

The conference ended with an awesome talent show. I met some amazing people who are dedicated and committed to finding solutions to bridging the gap. If you are a youth between 15-29, want to have some fun, learn and exchange ideas, I recommend you contact 1(647) 956-5019 CanadianRoots Exchange to get involved.   


5 comments:

DUTA said...

Very interesting and well-written post!
I'm not familiar with Canada's indigenous history. I know,however that in today's mixed world "Bridging the Gap.." is not a mere slogan, it is THE KEY to a better life for everyone and every nation on this globus.

Angelina Pratt said...

Hi Duta, I agree with you, absolutely!

Alan Pratt said...

Andrew, you have written a very moving and insightful piece about your experiences at the conference. Very good job and really well written! I am proud of you. Well, I am always proud of you, but specially proud today!

Hilary said...

Good for you for taking part. It sounds like a very productive event. It's rather disturbing to think of any Canadian city as "most racist" but I suppose somebody has to be it.

Barbara-Marie Grant said...

Andrew you do not know me but I am a friend of your Uncle Ronnie. This is a very well written article and I hope many people around the world read it. There is a GREAT need for these kind of conferences, and I especially liked the use of the blankets to demonstrate what happened in history. I have seen the Reserve's for myself, and my heart was deeply saddened. Many people in the world think that the injustices were a hundred years ago and are simply not aware that they continue today ....just in a less obvious way! I hope 'Bridging The Gap' continues and becomes stronger each year!!

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