Unreserved

Uncovering the complicated history of blankets in Indigenous communities

Blankets hold great cultural significance in many Indigenous communities. They were used in trade, given as gifts and even offered a way to record community history.
Host Rosanna Deerchild testing out the blanket fort she built in the Unreserved office. (CBC/Stephanie Cram)
Listen to the full episode41:44

Blankets hold great cultural significance in many Indigenous communities. They were used in trade, given as gifts and even offered a way to record community history.

But the relationship between communities and blankets hasn't always been cozy. Over the years, blankets went from a highly sought-after item to a symbol of colonialism.

This week on Unreserved, we look at the weathered reputation of the blanket in Indigenous communities and how it's being rewoven into art, ceremony and remembrance.

Mona Royal felt her great-great-grandfather's storied history needed to be told. But instead of a book or a movie, she decided to use blankets as a medium to share Boy Chief's heroism, compassion, healing abilities and survival. 

The Hudson's Bay blanket was once a valued item for Indigenous people in Canada. But, as Paul Hackett explains, these blankets have a darker history.

That darker history of the Hudson's Bay blanket has been explored extensively in art. Jaimie Isaac, curator of Indigenous and contemporary art at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, talks about why the blanket keeps popping up in the work of Indigenous artists.

In the Northwest Territories and Alaska, the blanket is used for something quite unique — a people-powered trampoline. Former blanket toss champion Reggie Joule explains the origin of the blanket toss and how it's a celebration today.

Tasha Spillett-Sumner recently got married to Leonard Sumner on his reserve of Little Saskatchewan. Spillett-Sumner talks about the importance of the blanket in their ceremony.

This week's playlist: 
Diyet and the Love Soldiers. (© Alistair Maitland Photography)

A Tribe Called Red — Ba Na Na
Diyet and the Love Soldiers — Two Little Birds
Lloyd Cheechoo  James Bay
Leonard Sumner — Divine Beauty