ReachUp! North Intern Josh Lewis shares the recent experience he had at the Canadian Roots Exchanges' National Youth Forum in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Earlier this month I had the opportunity to attend the Canadian Roots Exchange National Youth Forum in Winnipeg, Manitoba. I was there on behalf of A7G and Kairos, and helped facilitate several blanket exercises. The blanket exercise is basically an interactive reconciliation tool that allows participants to experience the devastating effect that 500 years of colonization had on the Indigenous people of this nation.
Josh Lewis, Gabrielle Fayant, and three other facilitators of the blanket exercise at the National Youth Forum in Winnipeg
Facilitating the blanket exercise has been a very powerful educational tool for me since becoming a ReachUp! North Intern. It has taught me many valuable lessons that are strengthening my cultural identity as I continue my journey as a young educator. The teachings discussed at the sharing circle following the exercise always empower me and reinforce my passion for teaching youth about Aboriginal culture. This dialogue allows for the most intimate and engaging words to be exchanged. Blanket exercises have also allowed me to make many connections with elders, educators, and youth, the people I personally believe will be the ones to preserve Aboriginal culture and tradition for our future generations. The exercise is also an effective tool for building bridges between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada.
I was amazed by the number of Indigenous youth who were engaged at the National Youth Forum. It was empowering to be around so many likeminded individuals who respect their Aboriginal ancestry and are leading so many positive initiatives across the country. During the conference, A7G co-founder Gabrielle Fayant was selected to be a keynote speaker on the closing day of the forum. She talked about her early life struggles growing up in Ottawa. The story was very well received by the audience, many of whom were Aboriginal youth who had grown up in urban settings. Gabrielle talked about how she would not let stereotypes define her, and her words of hard work and perseverance have formed the foundation of what defines A7G and ReachUp! North.
Gabrielle speaking at the National Youth Forum
When it comes to ReachUp! North, we are fortunate enough to have the blanket exercise as one of our program modules, and we recently held a community blanket exercise for this round of ReachUp! North training. Participants were able to invite their friends and family to the event, and Interns were also in attendance to show their support. The exercise was very emotional for our participants, and many tears were shed during the sharing circle afterwards. Tears are considered a form of healing, and from that healing came much wisdom. One participant described the exercise as a ceremony, because of the spiritual connection most participants felt they shared. This exercise sparked a fire in the participants, and they are excited to continue embracing their Indigenous identity and building bridges with the non-Indigenous community.
Gabrielle facilitating the blanket exercise at the Odawa Native Friendship Centre in Ottawa