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Commentary: Crow Wing Energized - the Blanket Exercise brings a unique learning experience

A truly unique opportunity for finding out more about the relationship between European ancestors and descendants of the First Peoples to occupy this land is the Blanket Exercise.

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Second graders have finished coloring cornucopias. Now, it is story time.

They gather into a circle and sit down as Mrs. Cole tells them, “Sit Indian style.” All eyes focus on colorful pictures in the book. She reads words like Pilgrim, Captain John Smith, and Captain Miles Standish. Oh, look! There’s an Indian girl named Pocahontas! The story is about Pilgrims and Indians having the very First Thanksgiving.

Being in that circle brings feelings of warmth and anticipation. My grandparents are coming! Grandma will make pumpkin pies. I feel like I belong to Captain John and Captain Miles and Pocahontas and the Pilgrims, and they belong to me. They are MY people!

We return to our desks and color, then cut out, feathered headbands and Pilgrim hats to wear in our play about The First Thanksgiving. I place a headband on my head. I AM Pocahontas!

Since those sweet innocent days, I have learned that, had the Wampanoag, “People of the First Light,” not shared provisions with the starving Pilgrims in Plymouth Colony, there would have been no First Thanksgiving. As I grew just a bit older, I heard Indians being called “scalpers” and “savages” and saw movies that portrayed them massacring people like me and people like me killing them. Still later, I learned there were treaties and reservations. These were nouns. The verbs that originated and connected them were not chapters in my history books.

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Fast forward to 2022. I have become aware that I learned very little in school about the relationship between my European ancestors, who arrived here much later than the Pilgrims, and the human beings whose ancestors were the first to live on the soil of this land we share, America. To not know that history is to miss part of the identity of the people to whom it belongs. That history belongs to me, to you, and to our Native American brothers and sisters. We are rendered more whole, healthy, and functional by knowing our history.

A truly unique opportunity for finding out more about the relationship between European ancestors and descendants of the First Peoples to occupy this land is the Blanket Exercise. It is a participatory, interactive learning experience, the goal of which is to raise awareness of the nation-to-nation relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in the United States. Based on the real-life experiences of Native Peoples, it is designed to increase knowledge about laws, policies, and programs used during nation building by having participants literally walk through U.S. history. Time will be allotted for initiating conversation about how intercultural bridges can be built.

Through the collaboration of Micah Group of Lord of Life Lutheran Church, Baxter, and the Brainerd School District, this unique opportunity is offered free of charge to the community from 2:30-4 p.m. Oct. 30, 2022, at Brainerd Senior High School, 702 S. Fifth St., in the auxiliary gymnasium. Enter through the main doors of the high school and follow the signs. This event is for all adults and for children 11 and older.

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