June 21, 2021
By Janice Biehn
Mapping the Ground We Stand On is a physical, interactive workshop that aims to understand the impact of colonialism on Indigenous populations by inviting participants to “walk on” to a map of Canada, both literally and figuratively.
In June 2019, nine volunteers from across Canada were trained as Mapping Exercise facilitators and armed with giant floor maps of Canada (sharing four maps between them). In the ensuing months, they delivered 18 workshops in their respective Ecclesiastical provinces, including approximately 385 participants.
Then in March 2020, the pandemic pressed pause on in-person gathering.
Part of the effectiveness of the Mapping Exercise is hearing the names of First Nations, Inuit and Métis people being read aloud, and then seeing the names cover the map of Canada, the northern part of Turtle Island. In many instances, the exercise has elicited powerful emotional responses from participants. When the facilitators met via Zoom in late 2020 to discuss online delivery of the Mapping Exercise, they agreed it would be impossible to replicate that visceral feeling on Zoom.
But as the pandemic wore on into 2021, so too did the need for greater understanding and reconciliation. The facilitators’ commitment to promoting truth and reconciliation continued to burn and the group encouraged PWRDF staff to look again at a virtual workshop. “We realized we needed to create a virtual version for groups to use now, and that could complement the in-person workshop down the road, when pandemic restrictions lifted,” says Suzanne Rumsey, PWRDF Public Engagement Program Coordinator and co-creator of the Mapping Exercise.
The heart and soul of the workshop is the huge floor map. To keep that visual front and centre, the virtual presentation uses our computer screens to full advantage to focus on the map. Instead of laying the cards on the floor, the names appear on the map while participants read them. As the facilitator guides participants through the waves of immigration coming to Canada over the centuries, arrows swoop in with text to populate the map. Participants are invited to share when their ancestors arrived, either through the chat function or by unmuting. Breakout rooms are used to create sharing opportunities, adding another interactive touchpoint. The virtual version can still be emotional, so facilitators invite an elder or chaplain to participate and offer a pastoral response to anyone in need.
The in-person workshop includes several recommendations participants to viewing to do at home, but in the virtual workshop, video is used to greater effect. The first eight and a half minutes of the Anglican Church of Canada’s documentary, Doctrine of Discovery: Stolen Lands, Strong Hearts, clearly sets out the Doctrine of Discovery as a preposterous concept, yet one that remains enmeshed in our legal system and culture. Even if you’ve watched this excellent video before, watching this section on terra nullius (empty land), after having viewed the map of Canada filling up with Indigenous names, is especially poignant.
Esther Wesley, former administrator of the Anglican Healing Fund who was a contributor to the original workshop, has recorded a segment she wrote about Indigenous Knowledge, and then the workshop concludes with a short documentary about the reconciliation journey taken by one our facilitators, Cheryl Marek. “Realizing that the land was not empty before the first explorers came does not feel like a threat to me,” she says. “It’s like coming clean before God. We’re at a critical time right now where we have a chance to turn things around and continue to be here. And I think that working together is the way to go forward.”
Launched in the week following the painful discovery of the remains of 215 Indigenous children on the grounds of the Tk’emlups (Kamloops) Residential School, the virtual Mapping Exercise offers a timely and important opportunity for learning and action. To book your virtual Mapping Exercise, please email Christine Hills. To learn more about the program visit pwrdf.org/mapping-exercise.