Maingate Islamic Academy Students Start the Journey on the Path to Truth and ReconciliationWritten by Sanaa Ali Mohammed
Students at Maingate Islamic Academy in Mississauga participated in a workshop called The Blanket Exercise, which explores the impact of colonialism on the indigenous peoples of Canada. Student reporters from the school Zaynab Mamai, Sumaya Abdulle, and Dima Traboulsi, with the support of their teacher, Sanaa Ali-Mohammed, wrote the following article about their experience.
“This is a little emotional for me, because my family did go through this, and we lost so many people. And I had to learn about all this myself, because there were not a lot of things happening [like the Blanket exercise] in school, when I was growing up.”- Youth Leader, Coty Zachariah
On April 6, 2016, students from grades 6, 7, and 8 at Maingate Islamic Academy began their Truth and Reconciliation journey. Sincere dialogue and discussion took place, and bridges were built that could have implications for our communities in Canada.
The workshop, called the Blanket Exercise, was facilitated by two youth leaders from Canadian Roots Exchange. Canadian Roots Exchange is an organization that promotes understanding and respect for Indigenous peoples in Canada through different forms of reconciliation (like programs, conferences, and workshops). It aims to develop and strengthen profound relationships between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous youth using thought-provoking, interactive activities.
Coty Zachariah, a status member of the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte, and of Tyendinaga territory, and Nura Yunus, a Canadian and Muslim of Eritrean descent who works in solidarity, shared some information about themselves. Coty also explained the significance of having all participants sit in a circle, since, for many Indigenous peoples, this signifies the equality of all present.
As part of the exercise, students stood on several blankets which represented the land of the Indigenous peoples, also called Turtle Island. Through the exercise, we learnt how, over time, once the Europeans arrived, there was increasing injustice and discrimination towards the Indigenous peoples of Canada, including policies of stealing land, breaking treaties, and placing Indigenous children in residential schools. Indigenous communities today are still struggling as a result of many of these injustices. Finding out about this made us very disappointed in our government for all that has happened to innocent children and adults. The Blanket Exercise was a very effective way to “experience” and be informed of the identities, history, and culture that were unfortunately taken away from the Indigenous people all over Canada.
Afterwards, Coty and Nura showed us a few traditional Indigenous items, such as an Eagle feather drum that Coty made by hand, and plants used in traditional remedies such as sweetgrass, sage, pine, and a variety of other herbs. Students also learnt a few Mohawk words.
Sister Farrah Marfatia, Principal of Maingate Islamic Academy, explained why she organised this event for students, “I think, as a relatively new community here in Canada, we tend to look inwards at our own struggles, but it’s equally important to build that understanding with the first peoples of this land, so that we are not actively contributing to their experiences of colonialism. Islam teaches us to think, and learn, and act against injustice and oppression when it happens. The Blanket exercise, which starts conversations about these things, seemed like a cool, interactive activity to help begin truth and reconciliation efforts for the youth at our school.”
We feel that the Blanket exercise workshop achieved these objectives. It was eye-opening, and challenged ideas about the experiences of Indigenous peoples, especially since our history and social studies textbooks don’t often talk about these things. It also taught us about the importance of looking at history, the news, and what we accept as “the truth”, from different points of view.
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