Culture as Healer
April 27, 2020
From Lea Ann Holder, LICSW, and Javelin Hardy, CSWA, along with Ana Hristić, MA, LCSW, Director of Education & Workforce Strategies, Trauma Informed Oregon
Lea Ann Holder, LICSW (of Generations of Healing, LLC) and Javelin Hardy, CSWA (of javelinhelpsheal.com), talk with Trauma Informed Oregon’s Ana Hristić about culture as healer. Especially at a time of incident response, we are called to uplift practices and procedures that support individual and community culture for sake of workforce wellness. How is culture showing up for you these days? How is your organization supporting and honoring your healing practices and ways of knowing?
This video is 24:32 minutes.
On Breathing, poem by Alicia Jo Rabins
Ana: All right. Well, welcome everybody. We’re so excited to host you and to share space with you in this way. Would you be willing to introduce yourselves?
Javelin: Well I’ll go first. My name is Javelin Hardy and I am owner of Healing from the Heart. I am also a full-time counselor at Portland Community College as well, and an instructor. So, thank you for inviting me today.
Lea Ann: So, it’s good to be with you. My name is Lea Ann Holder. I me Chickasaw Nation tribal member. I have a practice in Vancouver, Washington. It’s called Generations of Healing. I do a lot of board work with Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women USA, and I do a lot of community work with my native community. Thank you for inviting me.
Ana: Yeah, thank you both for being here. So, we’ll see where the conversation goes but really, the intent behind the invitation was to have a platform to talk a little bit about this notion that hopefully people are hearing and resonating with, which is that culture is healer. That really any time and especially at a time of crisis or instability, uncertainty and toxic stress, that one place of resilience could be in the bed and the embrace of culture. And so, I’m just curious to just open up what does that mean to you? What about that resonates with you? And then we’ll go into some more specifics of how are you seeing that these days?
Lea Ann: I’ll go ahead and start, I think culture as a healer, to me, I think it’s one and the same, it’s the same thing. I think that we’ve been given a sacred opportunity really to take a pause and to also look at our native ways of knowing, indigenous ways of knowing, taking a harsh look at colonization practices which purported isolation, removal, rugged individualism. And so, we’ve had to make that shift into our indigenous way of knowing, which is looking at the health and safety and well-being of the collective. So, with that, that’s what gives us the strength. We’ve also had some glaring looks at social inequity, health disparities. So, it’s been a harsh look, but it’s a healthy look for all of this. We’ve been kind of tipped upside down lately. And if you’re on a moving object, your natural response is to, like if you’re in a bus or train, to spread your feet. So, you’re securing that broad aspect of support and inviting that in.
Ana: Yeah, I love that visual.
Javelin: Well, I’m kind of almost looking at also, as a African American woman, you know, just the revealing of the veil on a global systemic governmental eye view of what the African American community has witnessed and already known, but to hear the government say that we are highly susceptible to getting the COVID-19 due to all the health disparities, you know, was more of I hope a wake-up call for my people, but at the same time, a realization culturally that we’re going to have to bring back a lot of health remedies that I know my ancestors taught me that I know I still use now.
There were so many people in my social media connection as well as personal people going, is this my allergies? Am I really sick? You know, is this really COVID-19? But not only that, just awareness of some people were not taking it serious at all, you know, and just trying to educate my people on, yes, we do have to take health scares like this, a virus real serious. And it appears as if a lot of people didn’t start taking this serious until people around them start dying, which is very heartbreaking. So, to hear the government say, African American people who have asthma, or either any type of COPD, heart issues, related pass respiratory issues, you are highly susceptible to getting COVID-19 and possibly dying.
You know, that’s a shock to your system. But not only that, culturally, I hope that this is causing a health awareness and we can move forward in creating more policies, procedures for community organizations to help and have more resources for more of a community connection versus having to connect with your city, having to connect with the government, but go back to old school. Whereas we are ourselves, our neighbors, we’re supporting each other, we’re helping each other. Because that’s what I’ve been seeing and that’s what I’ve been doing. Where a lot of people, I had a partner, he even brought me a pack of toilet paper. So just the old school back to we ourself, we are community, we are helping culturally. What do you have at your house that I can give you? And what do you have at your house that I can give, you know, vice versa.
Ana: Lea Ann what do you see?
Lea Ann: You know, I see the emphasis on marginalized populations. Just as Javelin was saying, you know, I want to talk a little bit more about that. I mean, you know, we’re learning about each other as a group. We’re learning that the most compassionate thing that we can do for each other is to physically distance ourselves and learn how to communicate in different levels. But also, that isolation cuts down on the amount of awareness that we have with this pandemic. I’m thinking of migrant farm workers, I’m thinking of folks who live in isolation out on reservations where they don’t have the privilege to physically distance. They don’t have that. There’s like, you know, 20-30 people living in one household.
So, it’s actually checking our own privilege and knowing that, you know, we’re in our homes and we’re able to do this. We have our laptops. And so, it’s really shaking us upside down and having us really, really focus on traditional values and strengths and draw from that. And part of that is looking at, you know, our elders, for instance. Those are the ones that are dying at huge rates, and our elders are the ones that hold our stories, they’re storytellers, in their hands and in their hearts. So, to lose that is horrible, it’s horrific.
Ana: Yeah, do you have a sense of how this focus and sort of benefit of a return to the culture could be used to maintain workforce wellness during this time? You know, what we know about the workforce right now that is quote-unquote essential, and the truth is, has been essential all along before we even named them so. Many, many people are not feeling supported culturally speaking, identity speaking, in their workplace or as the workforce
itself. Anything that you’re seeing or would suggest or want to elevate or celebrate both on an individual level, how somebody might use culture as healer during that time, but also sort of interpersonally or even organizationally.
Javelin: Well, I’ll start off with that. I know as for me, an awareness has changed, not only just for me as an African woman, but as far as the common person realizing that you just can’t go to your doctor’s office like you used to and how huge of a privilege that is. But let’s say you come from historically where this has already been experienced by some of my ancestors, where, here it is in the past. They couldn’t go to the doctors, you know, and as my sister shared a few minutes ago with some of the ancestors being storytellers. They were also great healers, you know, I use a lot of passed down remedies that I know that has worked for me. But not only that, how do I bring that conversation into a counseling session? You know, how do I bring that up at a meeting at work? Whereas to that may not work for me, that may work for you, but at the same time right now, some of my people probably fear doctors by all the misinformation we get from day to day.
You know, I’ve done my best to really not even watch the news, you know, to help me stay grounded and not cause me to be in panic, fear, or have some type of anxiety. Because me as an African woman, I’m looking at more Caucasian men giving information where I just really do not trust them right now. So unfortunately, we get, we also can go back to the, go backwards, instead of going forward. Whereas to, who do I trust? Who can I go to get health information? Are you going to try to give me a placebo? Are you going to try to give me some type of medication like they did my ancestors to test to see if this medication works? So unfortunately, I know for me I’ve had these conversations because we do a huddle every morning at work. And I had to be honest with my colleagues who are mostly Caucasian people, as to be honest with them about how this brings up ongoing fears that my ancestors have already dealt with.
Ana: Yeah, what a powerful example.
Lea Ann: Absolutely. I mean, I think it dredges up that historical multigenerational trauma, that disenfranchised grief, that, you know, we think we have systemically as a culture, you know, a way to, to heal from that. But with each barrier, with each pandemic as we’re living right now, we’re realizing we need to infuse more. We need to remember, we need to remember the good, bad, and the ugly. One of the things that comes to light for me is I try to control my info media because, you know, it’s crazy making for all of us. But then you want to get the information that you need to keep yourself safe and healthy in your community. But at the same time, I think that we can share as a culture what we’re doing for each other. Like on Facebook, there’s this social distancing pow wow.
I don’t know if either one of you have experienced that, but it’s people from all over the US who are in their regalia and they’re dancing their traditional dances, and their healing ceremonies and it’s just amazing to wake up to that every day. I look forward to it. So, it’s little things that we can do that we can share in each other’s culture that we wouldn’t have known prior to
that. Also, I think it’s re-looking at and identifying our protective capacities that are always with us. But sometimes you’re just shoved so far down that we just we can’t recognize it. But, you know, it’s all about re-sharing and re-learning from each other. And it’s of trauma informed care.
Ana: That’s right.
Lea Ann: For sure.
Ana: That’s right. I mean, I think that maybe the last question and anything else that’s alive for you, I’m curious if you, if you imagine this video being seen by management of an organization, or this is a supervisor of a team who’s still out there working on the front lines let’s say, for lack of a better metaphor at the moment, or this is, you know, nurse manager who is overseeing a team of health care professionals. What do you want them to know? Especially if they are Caucasian and white? What do you want them to know as an invitation to broaden their lens and their ability to host culture as healer during this time?
Javelin: I would say just a lot of self-awareness. I mean, to the tenth power. Self-awareness to the point of African Americans can’t really go see big momma. You know, African Americans go to big momma’s house as a sanctuary. Right now, I’m a grandmother. I have two grandchildren. And even though before they got real heavy about hunkering down and making sure, you know, we do the social distancing. Me and my families, we still got together, we was together for four days, but we made sure we asked each other questions. Have you had a fever? Have you had a sore throat? Have you been feeling sick? And they said no. But at the same time, in the midst of that time together, we felt like we were renewed, we were revived. We sang, we danced, we ate, we connected. But not only that, we felt as if we gave each other hope and that might look different from some people culturally.
Whereas to, not go on over to your big momma’s house may not mean a big thing to you. And for those who don’t know who I’m talking about, big momma, I’m talking about grandma, you know, who is the healer, who is the connector of the family, who is the one that pretty much holds the family down, not to eliminate the grandfather, pawpaw. He’s there too for those who have the privilege of still having their grandparents in their life. But just think about that. That’s their safety, that’s their wisdom. Where we go, what we do? What we going to do big momma? You know, what we going to eat. What are we going to put up? What kind of food should we put up? But just be self-aware that everybody right now culturally is not going through this the same.
Lea Ann: Absolutely, I think that’s really powerful. I think that it seems like for me, indigenous ways of knowing, cultural ways of knowing, has always been looked at as kind of unacceptable, sort of given a wink and a nod. It’s looked at as being more inferior as opposed to a Eurocentric perspective, right? So, I think now hopefully we’ll be able to share with each other different ways of knowing that comes right from that core of culture. Because really when we’re crying
out, when we’re, for instance, when we’re in a therapy session. You know, a native way of knowing is that our ancestors, when we are talking, when we’re explaining, when we’re crying, when we’re laughing. Our ancestors are there and listening to us and they’re praying for us and they’re wanting us to heal, they’re wanting us to carry on. So yeah, culture I think is, is everything.
Unfortunately, there’s been that barrier, especially with academia where it’s not seen as such, it’s seen as a sidebar. That’s something that is, like I said, given a wink and a nod. I have actually a poem. I don’t know if we have time, but this kind of explains a lot. It was actually, it’s a short poem, and it was given to me by a friend of mine and it was written by a Portland poet. It’s called Breathing. And we’ve all been doing a lot of deep breaths lately, hopefully most of us are practicing this. But it’s called On Breathing.
“I’m okay during the day, but at night I get scared, which makes it hard to breathe, which is a symptom of the pandemic, which is what scares me. Well played, anxiety, my old friend. You’ve always warned me something like this was going to happen. You’re a gift from my ancestors who survived plagues, and worse. They wove you into my DNA to warn me, and so that I might survive. Now that it’s happening, anxiety, I don’t need you anymore. I need the ones who gave you to me. So, hear me, ancestors who lived through danger times. I’m ready for you now. All these years I’ve carried your worries in my bones. Now I need your love, your thousand-year view. Tell me it’s going to be okay. Remind me you’ve made it through, and we will too. Teach me to breathe.”
I just love that.
Ana: What a gift. Thank you.
Javelin: I hope you can post that somewhere, or share it, I would just love to read that for myself every day. You know, I notice I’m finding myself doing. Yeah, I’m finding myself doing prayers, more meditation. I’m burning a lot of sage. I had to order some more yesterday. And just really channeling in and asking my ancestors to hold me up and give me the wisdom and the strength that helped them, you know, make it through slavery. Make it through all the type, all the unfortunately traumatic things that they had to make it through. But thank you so much for whoever wrote that.
Ana: Yeah. Thank you both.
Lea Ann: Thank you for the opportunity Ana.
Ana: Anything I didn’t ask about or any last nuggets you want to share?
Javelin: I’ll say, practice more compassion, more empathy. Allow the stillness to be uncomfortable right now. I know isolation is not a friend of mine, not a friend of my people. We get together for any kind of reason. Can you imagine right now not being able to have a baby shower or a wedding? Unfortunately, people have been limited to memorial sessions. How many people can come to a home going when someone passes away right now? Just think about that. That’s a huge, huge change. But not only that, when you celebrate someone leaving, I know in African American culture, unfortunately you in service all day, but at the same time you have, you have celebrated, you have honor, you have sung songs, you have broke bread together. And just think about a lot of things that we use as a part of our healing is limited right now. This is something that I don’t want to ever experience again. I just have to be quite honest.
Lea Ann: Absolutely. And, you know, taking a little positive spin, it, I think it is kind of a sacred opportunity, this giant pause that we’ve had to be able to sit back and look at, try not to backslide into, oh, wow, you know, I can’t do this, or I can’t do that, or anymore, or get together socially like we used to. We’re being able to be creative in ways that we never thought that we could before. We’re very resilient. And this is, this speaks to this. Also looking at our planet in general, our climate is much better. LA on a given day is, the air is 15 to 20% more clear. LA, for an example.
Lea Ann: Animals are coming out of the woods, they’re feeling safe. So, so we’re seeing a lot of this regenerative process that’s happening. And so, we do have a certain control over how we want this to look, what we want to put back in our lives, who we want to vote for, where we want to spend our time, what communities we want to get behind, and give to, and share with. So, in a way, it’s a good lesson for us all.
Javelin: To slow down.
Lea Ann: Slow down. Exactly. For sure.
Ana: Well, thank you. Thank you all so much. And my wish in sharing space in this way is that hopefully there are many other opportunities for people to do the same and for your words to resonate and infiltrate the workplace. Because for as long as we see the workplace as a fragmented place, or a place where culture is not welcome, where traditional healing is not welcome, where healers are not welcome if they don’t have the whatever paperwork behind their name. That is how long we will continue to perpetuate harm and a distancing that is really alienating, and as you mentioned, re-traumatizing. So, may whoever hears this, yeah, just settle into their awareness and open-mindedness and creativity and how to host cultures as healer in the workplace. Thank you so much.
Javelin: Thank you.
Lea Ann: Thank you for the opportunity.