Back to Top Blanket Exercise boosts staff awareness about colonization effects on Indigenous patients - The Ottawa Hospital

Blanket Exercise boosts staff awareness about colonization effects on Indigenous patients

Megan Ellis, Aboriginal Program Coordinator, wears her red sash to show her Métis heritage

Megan Ellis, Indigenous Program Coordinator, has been leading the KAIROS Blanket Exercise with groups of staff from The Ottawa Hospital. She wears her red sash to show her Métis heritage.

It moves some to tears. Others are shocked, yet hopeful. Anger, guilt and shame can also come with the heightened awareness hospital staff members have after taking part in the KAIROS Blanket Exercise.

The interactive exercise – developed by KAIROS, an ecumenical social justice group – retells 500 years of Canada’s history through the perspective of First Nations, Inuit and Métis. Staff members stand on blankets that represent all the land controlled by Indigenous people when settlers first came to what is now Canada. By the end, they are standing on small islands of folded blankets, illustrating the dispossession of land and all that Indigenous people lost.

During the exercise, staff are asked to step off the blankets, as they represent children adopted as part of the ‘Sixties Scoop,’ children who died at residential schools, people who died from smallpox, and so on.

A group discussion followed the exercise. Many participants expressed dismay that they never learned this history in school and it’s still not always taught to their children today. Many did not know, for example, that sled dogs were shot so the Inuit could not pursue their traditional hunting. Or that blankets were purposely infected with smallpox and handed out to Indigenous people. Or that nutrition experiments were conducted on children at residential schools.

Staff members stand on blankets that represent all the land controlled by Indigenous people
Staff members stand on blankets that represent all the land controlled by Indigenous people


Staff members stand on blankets that represent all the land controlled by Indigenous people. They had lots of land at the start, when settlers first came to what is now Canada, but they have much smaller, unconnected islands of land now.


“As Canadians, it’s part of our story, something we have to carry with us,” said Megan Ellis, Indigenous Program Coordinator, who led the exercise. “We all have to carry on and move forward in a good way.”

“This exercise is not to make you feel guilty, but to more fully understand Indigenous people, and where they’ve come from, the traumas they’ve been through and how to provide culturally sensitive care,” explained Gwen Barton, Manager of Patient Experience in the Cancer Program.

Ellis, Barton, Dr. Treena Greene, Regional Indigenous Cancer Lead, and Indigenous Patient Navigator Carolyn Roberts are offering the KAIROS Blanket Exercise to groups of staff, doctors and volunteers to raise awareness about the traumas that Indigenous patients have gone through. So far, about 90 staff members have taken part. They are encouraged to incorporate that knowledge into their patient care.

“If you’ve treated an Indigenous patient around age 50 or older, odds are they’ve attended residential school,” said Roberts. “There are reasons why people behave the way they do.”

Lucie Zabchuk, Coordinator of Volunteer Resources at the Civic Campus, took part in the exercise in May.

“I felt like crying,” said Zabchuk, who represented children who died at residential schools. “I think everyone should go through this. We can’t forget our history, but it gives me hope that we can make it better.”

closeup of hands with school cutout

As part of the KAIROS Blanket Exercise, staff members were asked to step off the blankets, as they represented, for example, children who died at residential school.

“Several of my staff members described the exercise as a life-changing and intense experience,” said Julie Renaud, Manager in Radiation Therapy.
Some of the biggest questions people have after going through the exercise are “What changes can we make here? What’s next?”

Cancer Program staff are making a difference to Indigenous patient care at The Ottawa Hospital. Inuit patients from Nunavut, for example, come to The Ottawa Hospital for cancer treatment, but have trouble getting back home for palliative care. Roberts has intervened in many cases to enable patients to die at home, surrounded by their extended families.

Managers who would like to schedule the KAIROS Blanket Exercise for their group, or those who would like more information, should email Megan Ellis.


Comment on this post

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You might also like…

Support aides: An entry point into a career in caregiving

Support aides help to provide relief to our care teams and companionship to our patients. It can be a challenging role, but it can also be inspiring. Just ask Jasmine, Keith and Ricardo. Passionate about helping others and guided by their mentors, they have all decided to further their training and grow their careers in health care.

“My craft is to make people happy”

As a shuttle bus driver at The Ottawa Hospital, Bill Nauffts knows that staying on schedule could literally be the difference between life and death—but it’s what Bill does during his break that brings him and others the greatest joy.

Becoming a living kidney donor has never been easier: Trina and Antonio’s story

Kidney donors like Trina usually face many months of tests, but a new program at The Ottawa Hospital allowed her to complete nearly all of them in just one day. Trina shares her experience as a living donor and how this new program made it easier to give her brother the gift of life.

After 31 years of service, Stefan Mayer will soon hang up his blue volunteer jacket

For more than 30 years, volunteer photographer Stefan Mayer has captured important moments at The Ottawa Hospital, from awards ceremonies to newborn photos. Soon to turn 97, he will leave behind an incredible legacy when he retires from his volunteer career with us later this fall.

Former patient seeks out the man behind “the voice”

During a vulnerable time in his recovery from leukemia, Gary Davis found comfort in the most unexpected place—the voice on our recorded telephone system. Five years later, he set out on a mission to find and meet the person on the other end of the line.

How patients and family members are helping to infuse pride into The Ottawa Hospital’s DNA

Learn about four initiatives spearheaded by our Rainbow Patient and Family Advisory Committee (PFAC) that are helping to create safer spaces for the 2SLGBTQ+ community.

This website gives you common facts, advice and tips. Some of it may not apply to you. Please talk to your doctor, nurse or other health-care team member to see if this information will work for you. They can also answer your questions and concerns.