Historical Trauma - Roots and Belonging on Native American Land

Lab Cycle Oct 2020 - July 2021 Report


Patrick Dougherty & Eva Giedt


Cheryl Sarno, David Sherman, Katherine Poco-Enders, Jane Arzt 




The lab was framed from the premise that we stand upon land which was inhabited and stewarded by Indigenous people. We also stand upon a violent history of colonization and genocide of Indigenous people. The intention was to:

  • deepen awareness of how unprocessed collective trauma is carried in our bodies and impacts our sense of rootedness and belonging; 
  • gain a greater capacity to relate to and host discomfort from the price Indigenous people have paid and continue to pay.  


The lab included an outside team member (Jim Bear) who is part Mohican and a minister and storyteller.

We explored the following questions:

  • What constitutes the historical background of colonization and genocide of Native American peoples manifest as collective trauma today?
  • How does the unprocessed trauma of colonization and genocide of Native people influence the construction of identity and the process of ‘othering’ of who belongs here and who doesn’t?
  • How does the trauma of colonization and genocide influence the development of cultural architecture governing current relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people?
  • How does our use of language reflect and reinforce the consequences of this collective trauma?
  • How does this trauma show itself in times of crisis (e.g. Covid-19, land management, climate emergencies)? 
  • Can we collectively create a coherent ‘we-space’ and a process of witnessing that leads to an integration and eventual healing of this trauma?

Stages of our process as a group:

1. Synchronising & Resourcing
As the Lab evolved, we learned to build deeper coherence by first ensuring coherence among the Facilitator Team. Triads and small groups were a great help, as were tuning into ancestors, body movement and art. Finally, deep heartfelt shares and attuned presencing helped create a strong weaving of coherence. From the start, and at each meeting, guided 3 sync was provided and emphasized as well as slowing and feeling the body during each session. Resourcing was discussed and integrated into most sessions.

2. Meeting the Collective Trauma Landscape
As a first step, each person was given the assignment to adopt a piece of land, to learn about it - especially regarding the Native people who had lived there - and meditate with it. In the first meeting, the trauma met us head on as Jim Bear shared some of his experiences. It was also in the room in the relationing among those with native blood and those without. Incorporating a ‘feeling into’ the participants’ ancestors and their immigration on native land helped to fill this out more.

3. Exploring Individual & Collective Conditioning
While we did not necessarily explore this as a group, elements of this clearly came up in Jim Bear’s shares. It also came up in some of the shares around individuals’ ancestors and their immigration to US land.

4. Listening to Ancestral Roots & Voices from the Field
We invited participants to connect to their ancestral roots. This was very powerful. We may have tapped into the collective field of trauma and listened to the voices from that field when a participant expressed deep grief that was unfreezing. The group had limited capacity to stay coherent and feel this. Clearly the sharing touched off trauma that people were carrying as well as ancestral trauma. It is hard to disentangle the personal, the ancestral, and the collective. It seems that there may have been a mixture but, in sum, the participants may not have done enough individual and lineage work to be fully available for the collective. In a group of 5 with a co-facilitator there was a strong eruption of trapped ancestral energies and a healing that deeply affected all who presenced this. The reporting of this experience in the larger group deepened the experience of the Lab.

5. Integrating & Restoring
Clearly integration was occurring. There was a much stronger sense of relating across differences and seeing ourselves as different parts of the same whole. Jim Bear had a shift where he could more fully relate to, and honour, the participants.

6. Transforming & Meta-learning
There were many comments at the end that provided a sense of transformation and learning. For example, one participant that was part native American was deeply touched and felt more related to and seen with this group than with some of her activist oriented native groups. Another has been involved with indigenous communities in Canada and found this group to be very supportive during such a challenging time. It was a resource she did not find elsewhere. 
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Moments of Challenge

  • The start seemed fast, and the team did not find the time to create coherence. Hence the pace at the beginning seemed rushed and there was not enough spaciousness.
  • We started with a Trainee who had trauma activation in this topic and was unable to hold space. This was a difficult start as we were finding our way. 
  • There was dissonance for some around the role of the Trainees and the hierarchy model outlined by Thomas Huebl. This needs to be clarified prior to starting and Trainees agree to it.
  • We had a content expert with no prior exposure to the teachings and he was unwilling to attend the calls. 
  • Co-facilitator dynamics were impacting the team and the process. A supervision session was obtained and over time the dynamics improved. 
  • The model of history and timeline was too early in the process and more attention to hearing and getting to know the participants would have been better earlier.


  • Working with ancestors and connection with the land (especially land before the trauma) created many moments of grace.
  • Breakouts in groups of 5 per group with a team member strengthened the container.
  • After a difficult meeting with the content expert,the team met and re-designed the next meeting with more safety and listening and therefore more coherence.
  • The inclusion of an expressive arts session deepened the process and great beauty emerged.
  • The last meeting had many moments of grace including a movement in the content expert opening his heart to the “white” folks.
  • The tragedy of the news of many native childrens’ remains found at a school site was included and deeply touched many of us.
  • An Hawaiian indigenous woman who has much experience as an activist felt more related.
  • A descendent of Polish Holocaust victims had an ancestral healing.


  • It is important to choose a team carefully. For instance, in the selection of Trainees, and having content experts who are more willing to learn the TH culture.
  • Important for co-facilitators to know each other more before starting, to determine the fit, and to create coherence. 
  • Beginning realization of the importance of knowing ourselves as the land and not just on the land for the future of Collective Trauma healing.
  • Realizations on presencing Ancestors
  • The how-to of CTIP coming together more
  • Multi-dimensional weaving as important role of the co-facilitators
  • Accepting what is as needing to happen
  • Wondering about the people who left
  • Wondering about the correct time space between Labs
  • Sense of team care needed between Labs with precise presencing as our nervous systems reorganize.

Our Lab Team

Eva Giedt (2)

Eva Giedt

Patrick Dougherty

Patrick Dougherty

Our lab team

Eva Giedt

Eva Giedt

Patrick Dougherty

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