KAIROS Blanket Exercise receives the Mayworks Traditional Labour Arts Award

Alfredo Barahona & Caroline Sharp at the Mayworks Award Ceremony
Alfredo Barahona & Caroline Sharp at the Mayworks Award Ceremony

KAIROS is honoured and delighted to have received the Mayworks Traditional Labour Arts Award for the KAIROS Blanket Exercise.  

KAIROS representatives, Alfredo Barahona, Caroline Sharp and Cheryl McNamara accepted the award on behalf of the organization during the Mayworks 2023 Labour Arts Awards Gala on November 4. Held at the famed United Steelworkers Hall in Toronto, the event marked the first time since the lockdown that the labour arts community gathered to celebrate the diverse and broad range of vital projects that integrate labour, activism and the arts. 

The evening was lively! Prior to the awards ceremony, the music group, The Jewstice League got several people out of their chairs to connect and dance together. The guests enjoyed a Caribbean feast by Master Chefman (from the United Steel Workers). 

The Traditional Labour Arts Award is for the creative design and use of a quilt, banner, badge, button, placard, or apparel, etc., to promote labour solidarity. 

Speaking on behalf of KAIROS in accepting the award, Alfredo Barahona, who is the KAIROS Blanket Exercise Global and Newcomer Coordinator, thanked Barb Thomas and Cynthia Watt for their nomination. He said:  

“I have been facilitating KAIROS Blanket Exercises for over 10 years now, and I can tell you firsthand the impact it has had on me and countless others – here in Canada and worldwide. It brings the history of what happened to Indigenous peoples on Turtle Island and other places – and their current situations – not only to the fore, but through their perspectives.”

Alfredo also delivered a message on behalf of Leah Reesor-Keller, KAIROS’ Interim Executive Director who could not attend the gala: 

“Story and social change go hand in hand. The stories in the KAIROS Blanket Exercise are not easy stories to tell, or to hear, but these stories are transformative. How we talk about the past is a reflection of our beliefs and values in the present. The transformative power of the KAIROS Blanket Exercise is in how it opens doors of possibility to people of settler origin, like myself, for coming into right relationship with Indigenous Peoples and the land here on Turtle Island and globally. This would not be possible without the labour, care and art of Elders, skilled facilitators, and community partners. Thank you for recognizing the valuable work of this constellation of people and partnerships dedicated to walking the path of truth and reconciliation side by side through the power of story.”   

Alfredo reminded those in attendance, many who acknowledged that they participated in the KAIROS Blanket Exercise, “that the KAIROS Blanket Exercise is one step on the journey to reconciliation – one that we hope encourages more learning, more relationship building and more unpacking of colonization’s impacts on all of us.” 

Alfredo Barahona, Caroline Sharp, Cynthia Watt, Cheryl McNamara
Alfredo Barahona, Caroline Sharp, Cynthia Watt, Cheryl McNamara at the Mayworks Awards Ceremony

The Aboriginal Rights Coalition, a predecessor of KAIROS, developed the KAIROS Blanket Exercise in 1996 after the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples released its findings and recommendations, which included the need for education. The Coalition worked with Elders, First Nations community members, popular education experts and members of the Assembly of First Nations Education Department to create this popular educational exercise that uses blankets to represent the land of Turtle Island. Since then, this 90-minute program has been delivered to thousands of communities, schools, government departments, organizations and companies in Canada and worldwide. 

During the gala, KAIROS celebrated its fellow award recipients: 

  • Ruben “Beny” Esguerra, multi-instrumentalist/producer, spoken-word poet, arts educator and community worker – The Artist Award for Excellence in Contribution to the Labour Movement 
  • Gabriel Allahdua, author of Harvesting Freedom: The Life of a Migrant Worker in Canada – The Activist Award for Excellence in Contribution to Labour Arts 
  • The Drag Queen Community and CUPE Toronto Public Library Workers – for Drag Queen Story Hour Performances – The Labour Creative Maverick Award 
  • Migrant Rights Network – Ontario and Justice 4 Workers – The Labour Organization Award for Excellence in Contribution to Labour Arts  
  • Lorraine Endicott, longtime Editor/Publisher of Our Times magazine – The Min Sook Lee Award for Outstanding Contribution to Labour Arts. 

Founded in 1986, Mayworks Festival of Working People and the Arts is a community-based festival which annually presents new works by a diverse and broad range of artists, who are both workers and activists. Our programming presents bold, insightful, responses to pressing issues at the intersection of art, social justice and labour. It prioritizes the representation and participation of artists and audiences from communities facing systemic discrimination. 

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