Seeds of Truth: Healing Together

Joshua Stribbell at Kitchi Blanket Exercise, June 2 2017

I’m fortunate to be a part of the first KAIROS Blanket Exercise youth exchange to Guatemala being organized in partnership with Breaking the Silence and New Hope Foundation, Guatemala  At the end of May, we had the opportunity to meet the Guatemalan participants when they came to Canada. A few of us traveled by train from Toronto to Ottawa. I have many things to share about my experiences with them, and in time I will. However, for the purpose of this entry, I would like to talk about my first time participating in the KAIROS Blanket Exercise, which also occurred during our time in Ottawa. What I really want to discuss is what it means to be a good ally.

If I had to simply explain the Blanket Exercise, I would say that it’s an interactive tool which takes participants through the history of colonization and how it’s impacted Indigenous communities in Canada. But it’s much more than that. It isn’t just an historical exploration of the past. The Blanket Exercise is an invitation into the pain and trauma that still plague our lives and communities. I’m usually pretty good about not showing too much pain in public situations. I can chalk this up to the stern and obstinate demeanor I learned from watching my grandfather. Thus, passive repression is a habit I’ve had to unlearn over time. This exercise was an incredible opportunity to do just that.

I find that things happen for a reason. My biggest fear when reconnecting with my Inuit culture was the trepidation that I wouldn’t be accepted by the community, that I would be ridiculed and scorned for even daring to call myself Inuk in their presence. It wasn’t strange, then, for me to be randomly chosen by the facilitators to represent the Indigenous people trying to reintegrate back into their culture after the sixties scoop, only to be met with the turning backs of their communities. I relived my pain in that moment. My mother was a child of the sixties scoop. I lived her pain in that moment. Growing up, I had never met her, and in that small church, I was thrust back into the bedroom where I rested as a hurt child, wondering who I was and whether or not something was wrong with me.

There was a sharing circle after the exercise. Other than the elders, Priscilla and Eva Solomon, who were leading the Blanket Exercise, my friend Emilio and I were the only Indigenous participants from Canada. We sat near the end of the circle. I tried desperately to collect myself as I listened to the thoughts from the group. I couldn’t. All I wanted in that moment was to call my Dad and hear his voice. But I needed to wait, because my feelings intensified as I heard the commentary from the participants. Many of them felt it necessary to share, at length, all of the work they have personally done for Indigenous communities. Their acknowledgment of how powerful the Blanket Exercise is, seemed to me, truly just an acknowledgment of how noble and graceful the people sitting in the room were. In retrospect, these words are a bit harsh. But at the time I wasn’t in a rational state of mind, and I was definitely letting my emotions get the best of me. I started thinking about a man in the desert who was carrying a heavy load. I imagined someone coming and asking if they could take some of the load off of his shoulders. Afterwards, as the two travelers wandered together, the ally in the desert would incessantly ask the man “How happy are you that I’ve helped you with this load? How much easier is it for you now? You must be so grateful”. Again, these are harsh words, but they are the consequence of what I saw as an insensitive expression of what it means to be an ally.

The message I want to send to allies is simple: When we welcome you into our lives, please recognize that we are inviting you into a space of pain. It is important for us to welcome you into this space. Reconciliation is about a journey of healing together. But healing, for me, is not about how excellent you are at taking responsibility for things that people should be held accountable for. Healing for me isn’t about listening to all of the wonderful things you’ve done to soften the guilt you feel at the expense of my people. Healing for me is seeing my people grow into strong and healthy individuals. It’s about conquering the pain that causes us to have the highest suicide rate in the country. It’s about building virtuous lifestyles that end the cycles of addiction that are so pervasive among our people. It’s about creating strong public images that break the stereotypes that hold us back from reaching our true potentials. Healing with you is about working together to achieve these goals, without feeling obligated to congratulate you for your efforts.

I shared (some of these thoughts) with the circle. I excused myself after I spoke. I didn’t want to see the other side of ally guilt manifest itself. I didn’t want to be in a room where people were telling me how brave and courageous I was to share my story, because that wasn’t the point. I wanted to leave the room with a feeling that they had to take home with them. I retreated to the basement of the church and called my Dad. There was no answer, which was probably for the best. I wouldn’t want him to worry about my well being.

Later that day there would be an even greater healing opportunity. We would watch a number of strong Indigenous leaders take the KAIROS Blanket Exercise to Parliament Hill where close to a thousand people would experience it. In the political heart of our country, we would beat our drums and sing to the Creator as we celebrated our journey of healing together.

More information on the KAIROS Blanket Exercise Youth Exchange with Guatemala program.

Joshua Stribbell was born and raised in Keswick, Ontario. His family is from Iqaluit, Nunavut. He is a Youth Worker for Inuit in Toronto. (Read his full bio)

Filed in: Indigenous Rights, Latin America

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