Aligning the relational field: a love story about retelling the creation of craniosacral therapy (and a lot of other touch-based bodywork as well) — Susan Raffo

Since writing this piece a year ago, I have learned so much more. Gratitude to the many who have shared your stories and memories. I have added a paragraph to the bottom of this piece, reflecting on the learning…


I am writing about cultural memories and stories, many of which are not my own. I know that some of you reading this will be from or live in closer proximity to some of the cultural lineages that I name below. My desire in this writing is to not have you finish reading this piece and feel that, yet again, someone who is not from your home has disrespected the ways of your ancestors and elders. Please know that if there is any repair for me to do, you need only reach out to me and I will listen and make the necessary changes or remove the harm entirely. It is dangerous and necessary work, this listening to and learning from each other. It sits against the backdrop of unfinished histories of violence that turn one community’s sacred into a dissertation or museum exhibit or trademarked protocol. If I have unintentionally contributed to the latter, I will acknowledge the impact and change it. This love letter is written from a place of deep respect and care for the Tsalagi/Cherokee and Shawnee people, with particular honoring of, who is both Lakota and Cherokee. May I someday come close to being within my own practice in a way that holds the respect and honor that the elders who have remembered and taught these cultural ways deserve.

This thing we call craniosacral therapy is a dance, a dance between the contraction of membrane and the expansion of fluid. It is our birthright, that place where life as mystery first emerges and then expands to fill this web of lines and structure that we call a body. There are many different craniosacral techniques and they all do something similar: support the body to find its balance within any given moment. On its own terms. At a speed that makes sense for its desire to change. Some forms of cranio are more directive in that change, still operating from consent but bringing in, what one of my first teacher’s named, the force of a tugboat on a very very large ocean liner. Small, direct and steady over time. Other forms carry no direction at all, just the physicality of witness and the deep trust that, when supported, the body knows its own way.

We who live in 2020 are not smarter or wiser about the body than any of our people have been across thousands of years of time. If anything, we are probably more awkward and cut off than many of our people have been across thousands of years of time. Whatever body technologies we stumble across or dream awake during this later industrial age, it is guaranteed that those technologies have been understood and deepened during other less-distracted less-earth numbed times. Being humble about this makes us better healing folk.

Bonesetting is a tradition that has existed since long before homo sapiens existed. There is evidence that our Neanderthal cousins practiced bonesetting and so we can assume that other hominid groups practiced versions of the same thing. Bonesetting is still practiced in many parts of the world including in Russia, India, China, and in many cultures of what are called the Americas. In bonesetting, a practitioner works with the bones as living animate forms, using a mix of gentle and strong touch to settle the bones differently in the surrounding soft tissue. There are bonesetting traditions and bonesetters that work closer to what we call chiropractic work and osteopathy and those that work closer to biodynamic craniosacral work.

None of this is new. None of this is new. All of our ancient cousins knew how to listen to what is happening within a body, to light-touch the fluid-membrane link and support or witness as unwinding unraveling begins to happen. The oldest known text on what the west calls traditional chinese medicine , written over four thousand years ago, makes reference to the art of “listening and calming” the heart through touching the body very lightly. A whole range of early texts, drawings and sculpture, across what we now call Egypt and India and Iran and the lands described in the Bible show images or tell stories of touch healing, both strong touch like massage and light touch like craniosacral therapy. One of the oldest books in the world, the I-Ching, or Chinese Book of Changes, teaches: ‘keeping the hips still, making his sacrum stiff, dangerous, the heart suffocates.’ The caduceus, symbol of allopathic or western medicine is, by many readings, a drawing of the craniosacral link, of the poetry-stories that people told to feel/remember this link, of the snake rising from the root to come up and expand into the heavens. Craniosacral link, path of Kundalini, governor vessel. I’ve long been curious about various cultural representations of the body that came before or live alongside western anatomy. pushes back on the idea that the polyvagal system is “new” by showing how much this other-knowing of anatomy exists elsewhere, across cultures and across time. It’s all the same but different but the same but different.

The concept of “craniosacral therapy” is an invention, a framing, like western anatomy , like , like . And like all framings, it is not real except for how it is lived, for how it is taught, for who we become as a result of its shaping.

Craniosacral therapy was named in the mid-19th century, as industrialization was more deeply defining the parts of the world controlled and shaped by western european nations. In the US, tt was a thick and violent time; the Fugitive Slave Act and abolition and the push towards the end of the institution of slavery with equal white supremacist pushback to keep it firm. The Sand Lake Massacre and the Dakota Wars as the US government began to move from its strategy of outright war against tribal sovereignty towards practicing disappearance through forced assimilation and “legalized” land seizures. The first “mental hospital” emerges as a form of isolation/separation/cure, marijuana is part of the general medical pharmacopeia and the government grows it with great hopes for its everyday use. The first “alternative medicine” teaching colleges emerge and then within 20 or 30 years start to wane as germ theory and the rise of pharmaceuticals, and the links between oil drilling and drug manufacturing and profit-driven capitalism, begin to solidify. The theory of evolution is a new radical theory and sex work is one of the highest producing industries alongside breweries. This is the beginning times of the sixth great extinction, of the high fever wind of climate catastrophe. The population of what is called the US, not the same 50 states, is about 10% of what it is today. And in these times, Andrew Still was born, raised, learned, and named many things, including the science of osteopathy, the parent of craniosacral work.

I am a craniosacral therapist with a 17 year practice who has learned through four different teachers and curricular approaches. I wept during the first craniosacral classes I had, feeling that sense of something clicking into place and then opening me up. And then, many years later, I felt a different kind of grief when I learned that craniosacral therapy would not exist without Andrew Taylor Still’s relationships with Cherokee and Shawnee healers . I felt deep grief that this knowing, this truth, was not what had shaped the evolution of our field.

Cherokee bodyworkers, reports Mehl-Madrona , who learned the method from two traditional Cherokee women, are masters at working with energy and the breath, and they also move cranial bones, seeking the ridges, albeit with more force than Craniosacral practitioners. They do this along with osteopathic-like massage and manipulation of musculoskeletal tissues, organs, and joints, as well as acupressure on points and energy channels (that, in fact, correspond to the meridians). They combine all this with gentle rocking and with narrative healing, both verbal and energetic, using storytelling, and dialogue with the musculoskeletal system and with the client, and intense breath work to “restore spirit” to all parts of the body, when giving treatments that they commonly refer to as “doctoring.”

Andrew Still grew up in a family that had at least four generations of intimate encounters and relationship with Shawnee people living on the land that Stills’ family had moved onto. We don’t know how many Shawnee people lost their lives or were captured at the Still family hands. Some of Still’s ancestors lost their lives and/or were taken captive by Shawnee people who were fighting the encroachment of settler farming. Andrew Still spoke Shawnee, farmed on Shawnee reservation land, and learned doctoring during the Civil War and then practiced on his farm and with the Shawnee community he lived among. Thank you to Nita Renfrew, one of Dr. Lewis Mehl-Medrona’s students, who put together the attached research to better lay out what happened, mostly in Still’s own words. From Renfew’s piece:

… when Dr. Still became a recognized physician and surgeon, although he never said where he had learned his musculoskeletal and organ massage techniques, which he called Osteopathy, he is known to have alluded to the bone-setting methods of the Shawnee at least once, as reported by the director of the Museum of Osteopathic Medicine in a lecture, who added that Still often used “the phrase ‘Taking an Indian look’ at something. Forgetting what you know and just to quietly observe with no thoughts.” …when he started his medical practice, he advertised himself as a “magnetic healer” and “lightning bonesetter” before naming his methods Osteopathic Medicine.

In the way of things, it is likely that Still was listening to something emerging within him, that he had his own knowing, his own sense of possibility or shift. That’s usually the way it starts. But what deeply matters is that, as this internal sense looked for meaning, for understanding, he was looking to and then learning from those who were Shawnee. This is from an independent osteopath’s research :

Dr. Still also witnessed a form of bone-setting from his experience among the Shawnee Indians. In a 1901 lecture he once mentioned, “When an Indian dislocated his hip, the limb was tied to the pony’s tail, the Indian was placed astride of a young sapling, and the pony driven away with whips; …… It would seem that his ability at “setting” hips possibly stems from his interest in the Indian’s approach. Ernest Tucker, D.O. tells us. “But certain it is that he would set a hip on a sidewalk, or a front door step, or on a chair — I have seen him do that — ‘All you have to do is to picture the Y ligament and the notch of the socket’, said he.”

Still was an abolitionist; he was fiercely anti-slavery and refused to join professional organizations or teaching staff that did not share a stated anti-slavery belief. He was friends with John Brown and others, fought towards and served time as a state legislator, with a life-bent towards keeping Kansas a free state. He was the co-creator of a college, he patented a more efficient butter churn, and he “started” a new medical branch, the branch of osteopathy. His most famous student, William Sutherland, was in his senior year at Still’s American School Of Osteopathy in Kirksville, MO. There was a collection of bone specimens mounted in a display case at the college, including a disarticulated skull. One day Sutherland said ‘My attention was directed to Memorial Hall’ where he saw the disarticulated skull. This is a story that you hear repeated in craniosacral schools everywhere: He stopped to look at it and was struck ‘as if from a bolt from the blue’ as he looked at the squamosal suture of the temporal bones, the rolling-overlap joint between the temporal and the parietal bone. He heard the words, ‘Beveled, like the gills of a fish, indicating articular mobility for a respiratory mechanism.’

This story, in the craniosacral therapy world, is the sacred moment. The words above are printed and reprinted, sometimes shared in the front of a classroom like ceremony. Sutherland was the first person in the osteopathic tradition to identify and name the cranial wave and to begin working with many of the practices we are learning in this class. He was the first person in this tradition, meaning he was the first person to begin the professionalization of something that many others within his cultural field had already named or started to name . He published his book in 1935 and then his students, John Upledger, Hugh Milne, and Franklin Sills, followed him, each applying their own learning to the practice which resulted in a range of schools and approaches. These men existed. Some of them, Hugh Milne and Franklin Sills, are alive right now. Their work matters. And so does the context around them, the lives and encounters that supported their work to emerge. That is what has disappeared and that disappearance is not neutral. It has shaped — and limited — the extent of craniosacral’s possibility, and what is possible in the realm of healing.

I want to retell the creation story, not just as a way of making sure that the field of craniosacral therapy tells the truth about its origins. That is something but it doesn’t come close to enough. It isn’t enough to just name this or to include indigenous content as a form of repair. There is more here but to get to the more, to get past the limits of my imagination, I want to practice that thing we do as practitioners, when we are with someone who is struggling to feel into something other than what they are experiencing in the now. We invite them to imagine… what if you felt safe enough, what might that be like? What if someone had shown up when you were small and protected you, what might that feel like? We do this to support the body, the mind, the person to begin to imagine a different relationship with itself, to build its capacity to sense something other than the trauma/pain rebound that the brain is used to. We do this carefully and with respect. This is not about pushing someone into something, but supporting them to imagine just two cells wider than what the today feels like. What if? What if?

What if when Andrew Still grew up, as he lives alongside Cherokee and Shawnee healers, he notices what else is happening around him. What if he remembered that since 1540, when Cherokee people first came into contact with Europeans, his people, his white-bodied kin, have been in a relationship of taking and harm more often than respect and care. This shakes him, as it should, because it is not just his mind-knowing, but he feels/is/aches/rages/grieves the truth of this. He realizes he can not keep sitting there without letting this in, shaking and weeping, listening to the stories that the elders tell; stories of listening quietly and stories of forced removal, of forced marches, of violence after violence wrought at the hands of his people….


Before I can let go into the expansive exhale of imagination, there are other things. Titration. Right now I want to shriek-scream on the page, I want you to do that, too, while you are reading this. No distance, no distance…. What if? God damn it, what if? What if you and your students refused to collude with disappearance, the primary strategy of genocide? What if you refused to collude, refused to collude? What if?

Andrew Still: how did you not fall to your knees?

How. Did. You. Not. Fall. To. Your. Knees?

You, your father, your grandfather, your great-grandfather? Each one of you building a life, an intimacy, an identity in direct relationship to the Shawnee elders and children you lived alongside. Did they tell you stories of the homes they had already left, their generations upon generations of life on the western side of the Appalachian mountains, before being pushed further west, further west? You were there, living among those who were finding home in Kansas. You were part of the elected strategy to move Kansas into statehood and you fought for abolition as part of its design and yet, at the exact same time, you watched as one of the conditions of statehood was the removal of all Indians from the state. You saw when the US government force-relocated the Shawnee, real people, families, people who had already been force-moved over generations before, to Oklahoma to live on the Cherokee nation. You saw the increasing violence and control, let me make that more physical because there should be no distance, you sat in circle with parents whose children had been murdered, with exhausted survivors, you were a doctor, you were doctoring, this means you would have seen the impact of violence on real bodies, you would have seen the impact of violence on real bodies. You would have had friends, told jokes, loved and respected, too. I am sure you loved and respected, too. And you were there. For all of it.

People already had words for what deep grief does to a human body. As someone on the supposed front lines of medicine, you would have had conversations with other doctors about the people you were seeing. Did you actually see, fuck, did you say goodbye to those families who your family had grown alongside for four generations, whose teachings were part of what, at this point in your life, you were trying out on your patients, developing touch by touch this thing that you called osteopathy? Did you feel anything, did you even notice as those who had taught you, who had shared the practices that made something come alive in you, did you even notice when they were forced to leave? You had to, you had to. You were busy designing a state that included their removal.

This story that you began telling, the story of osteopathy’s founding, is a story of treating the body with the respect and dignity it deserves. Treating the body with dignity and respect, supporting its nourishment so that it can be, in your words, a balanced machine. You listened to nature, you saw the body as a machine. This distancing let you do other things.

In your own words, after you said you had gone as far as you could with listening to nature as a way of listening to and learning life, you turned to the ancestors:

To accomplish this study, he returned to the Indian burial ground — the Indians had suffered greater numbers of death due to the Cholera epidemic. Dr. Still related in his autobiography, “Indian after Indian was exhumed out of the sand heaps of the Indian burial grounds and dissected, — still I was not satisfied. A thousand experiments were made with bones, until I became quite familiar with the use and structure of every bone in the human system.”

You disturbed sacred ground, Still, for your own learning. You went to a community already decimated by cholera, an infectious disease brought along with colonization, and then you disturbed the rest that death brings. You used the bodies of ancestors, without cultural consent, for experimentation. For your learning. For your insight. For you, you and more you. This is one strategy of eugenics, grandfather Still, this use of bodies as objects, without respect for culture, for kin, for consent.

When I shared this story with someone recently, they said that thing: times were different then. Still didn’t know. He was a man of his times.

I am tired of that excuse. We know now. Or we are in the process of remembering. We have built an industry on top of this, an industry that does not name or seek repair to relationship, to those who taught and shared with Still, to those ancestors and the bodies of their descendants who were disturbed for Still’s study so that, as craniosacral therapists, we can learn about levers and fulcrums and the way the bones move.

I have a lot of space for the complexity of who you were and can hold without confusion the contradiction of gratitude for my practice alongside rage and grief for its creation. It’s the intensity of your contradiction that keeps stopping me in my tracks, and a cold belly feeling that I need to look at my own life as well as at yours. It’s your ability to be intimate with those who helped you, grandfather Still, shape your field, your life’s work, and yet you seemed to feel no confusion about taking their stories and taking their bones so that you could learn what you were hungry to learn. Surrounded by stories, witness to forced disappearance, talking about the body as a machine that much be respected, nourished in proper balance, crafting this new science that would give you a place in history books. You were there.

How the hell, grandfather Still, did you let yourself be transformed by “the Indian way,” without dedicating the rest of your life to fighting alongside and for those whose ways were shared with you rather than stealing the bodies of their ancestors? You were there, you were there, you were there, just as we are here today, more distant, closer, you were there, living through it, fighting for the ending of slavery, fighting for the right for the body to be known and heard, watching as around you the science of eugenics began to emerge, participating in its emergence, watching/participating as this collective dehumanization that is the violence of this country’s origins took another step deeper into normalizing itself as the way of this land.

How did you not fall to your knees?

How did you not fall to your knees, how did you not feel shame, how did you not become catalyzed by grief and by rage?

And if you did, why are those not the stories we remember?

What if you did something different? What if your student, William Sutherland, by the time he was a senior already knew, not just in his mind but in the midline of how he lived his life, that this cranial wave he felt was something others were feeling too? If alongside his teacher and the students before him, they had fought for the Shawnee to have the right to stay on their land and if, along the way, he continued to learn alongside, when invited, and as this vision touched him, if it still came in the same way, beveled like the gills of a fish, he might have turned to one of the elders and said something like oh, oh god, oh, oh, OH… now I get it! I feel what you are telling me! You’re right! It’s there. And he would have marveled and he would have written something for others to learn from and that learning would have continued because his people, his kin, need it but this learning would have always have been alongside the elders who have remembered it the longest.

What would this field look like if 170 years ago, grandfather Andrew, you took this idea of osteopathy, this movement between membrane and fluid, and you stated from the very beginning that this work has the possibility to not only support the realignment of bones and the softening of tissue, but it actually has the possibility to remake worlds? Not just in the balancing support of a human shape, or in the energetic way, the fluid body way, but in the way of infrastructure and what we teach in schools and the fact that ALL healing is collective, all trauma is collective. What if you said to your students, you can not learn how to listen to the body unless you also learn how to listen, to be in right relationship, with those who never forgot the things our people are trying to remember?

This is the limit of my imagination. I feel the truth that for 170 years (and 230, 250 years before that) we haven’t been in practice on how to do this together, to not take but to instead move, thank you Adrienne , at the speed of trust. We don’t even have the language for what this would be, what it could be like, and because I am neither Shawnee nor Cherokee, I don’t know nearly enough to imagine what 170 years of right relationship could possibly have emerged into. I don’t know what craniosacral therapy would be if the ferocity about abolition and some clear gut-based refusal to support all Native disappearance, was woven into every single class, every single student, not just as something to know but something to be, something to be. There are thousands and thousands of craniosacral therapists right now. What if? What if?

We practice alongside osteopaths and polarity therapists, the other grandchildren of Andrew Still’s work. What would happen if we all took this in, not just as information but as something more essential than that? Feeling deeply into the relational field, this larger one that we share, and letting the truth of this violence, this disappearance, touch and shape us, not individually, but all together?

We are not living 170 years ago, but we know that healing, that the work that happens within craniosacral therapy, can shift how histories are held in the body. There is listening, fully and deeply, to what is told and what is felt. There is listening to where there is restriction or adhesion or the many other ways that different forms of craniosacral therapy name what happens when the fluid tide is held back. This work is about shifting, changing, how we understand our field, its history and the restrictions within how the field has emerged.

I don’t know how to get from here to there mostly because, right this second, I am still feeling too many things about what we have lost. Because there isn’t a strategy that can come out of any individual mind or reflection. Instead there is practice, what we know best, the truth of slow and steady change that is in primary relationship with the body’s own potency, vitality, contraction and expansion. The truth of slow and steady change that supports the body, both the individual and the collective body, to have regulated present moment instinct for action when a threat, a danger, an assault on values and bodies, is taking place. That part of you, it seems, that was numbed out, your humanity compromised, in relation to Native bodies, grandfather Still.

I don’t know what right action stretched over time looks like, and it would not be right action if it came from my own mind and heart. But I believe in practice. What I am about to say is not the answer, but it’s something to ground with, as we ground at the start every time we move to sit down with a client, a friend. We ground and then we wait and listen and then we move.

First, changing who we are as practitioners in relationship to our practice: When I was part of the US Social Forum organizing in Detroit in 2009, we started doing — and asked all practitioners we worked with to do — something pretty simple. This was our protocol: when offering your practice to someone, start with these three things: describe your practice, name its cultural lineage, and name why you personally have felt drawn to this lineage. Tell it as a truth of what you know and what you don’t know.

And then we said: this is not something you do once, coming up with an easy answer that you just repeat at every session. Instead, this is something you live into. For the rest of our lives. Who are the people who lived lives that they then shaped into teachings that you have learned? What happened to them? Are their descendants still freely and easily practicing these traditions, on their own terms and supported by their own elders? Why did you feel drawn to this lineage? What about your life experience resonated with what you are learning? What are your people’s relationship to the people who created this practice? Was there harm there? Connection and mutual learning? Distance and not knowing? If there was harm, what are you doing to repair that harm? How are you working to make sure that, as you learn and are deepened by this cultural traditions and practices, the descendants of those who gave birth to this practice are also cared for and cared about, on their own terms and in their own ways?

And changing the field: I have not been to the Breath of Life conference nor Beyond the Dura , when it has happened. What if these gatherings, and others like them, made the commitment to spend the next ten years, the next 20 years, the next five generations being in relationship to the truth of these origins and asking, listening, grounding towards what it would mean to support a greater relational field that seeks to repair, to witness, to change, to transform the truth of our own histories? To not only learn about the healing traditions of the Shawnee and Cherokee (and other indigenous healing forms that are older than cranio), but to learn about and take on what it means to be in right relationship to the descendants who live today. This is not just about retelling the roots of craniosacral therapy, but of inviting repair and transformation. It’s the fluidity of change that also recognizes the repair of the membrane.

And then doing everything else, plus more than what we can imagine today: I am very cautious about making suggestions and it’s why relationship, relationship, relationship is at the base of everything I am writing. There are way more examples of well-intentioned white (and other) people causing greater harm in attempting to redress something they feel remorse about than there are stories of white folks (and other people) doing deep repair work that actually shifts, in a collective sense, how history is held in the body of this land. As craniosacral therapists, for the most part, we are trained to listen and not assert, to listen and wait for right action. It’s one of the things I most love about our work. It is just as necessary when working with the collective field as it is with the individual.

In recognizing the two truths of Dr. Still, his commitment to ending slavery and his collusion with the violence of Native disappearance, I believe (and fundraise towards) that indigenous and Black people who are interested in learning this modality should not pay money towards tuition. So locally, I am involved (relationally!!!!!!!!) in finding ways to do that. I believe that all craniosacral teachers should be able to talk about social, collective and historical trauma — not just as information but as something that is alive and intimate. I believe that those teachers should also be able to talk about their relationship to those things, both how their own kin have experienced these collective forms of trauma and how their own kin have been part of creating or maintaining the broader trauma of others around them. And I believe that all of what is written here is only a start.

Thank you thank you and thank you again to Dr. Thank you to While this piece centers the truth of the origins of craniosacral therapy, is another level of this disappearance that is happening. If you listen to the , you will hear teachers and leaders in the field tell story after story of their moment of ignition, this moment when something sparked deep within them and they became, on the other side, different from who they were before. These stories tell, time and time again, of this or that white-bodied person having a transformative moment in India, in Peru, among teachers in Tibet, in China, among teachers in Japan, on Lakota land, alongside curanderas, at a meditation retreat. The development of this field continues to contract in the teachings of those whose cultural ways are often directly and negatively impacted by the political and economic force of the global north, it contracts this information in and then expands out with new classes and theories and practices that rarely integrate in right relationship the people whose teachings helped craniosacral therapy to grow. Thank you to Lila Sarene for pointing this out to me as we reflected on the podcast. And thank you to the podcast for gathering these voices to learn from. This piece is called a love letter, a moment of linking arms with those in this field and saying, look at this! Look at this! And now what…. who is the only white craniosacral therapy teacher I have ever had who named the as more than starting with a white man in the 1800s. The base experience, memory and research is theirs and I have only added to it and then woven it into story. for his generosity and commitment. Wa do.

“…Thus we begin with the idea that everyone needs a creation story, just as much as culture’s need stories about their origins. And all people require a story about the appearance of their illness, whether or not that story matches the medical version. The power of the creation story lies in its predictions. The medical diagnostic story predicts what treatments will work and what the results of those treatments will be. Similarly, the sick person’s story about the birth of his or her illness predicts the likelihood of healing or cure and contains clues as to what treatments will work and what treatments will not work. I begin with creation stories, just as medical care begins with diagnosis. I want to draw out the person’s own illness-creation story and then, over time… I try to influence that story so that the chance of healing and cure increases.” Dr. Lewis Mehl-Madrona , blog

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Added the next morning: I am slowly reading and taking in the comments and care that people are directing towards this post. Many of you have asked about printing this up to share when you are teaching. Please do. Please do. If you use this in your classes, please let me know how it goes, what your people learn or lift up, any kind of repair work that comes out of this. You can reach me via the contact form on my website or my email address raffo95 (at)

A few months later: Since writing this piece, I have learned a great deal more about Andrew Still which, as is good, makes him more complicated. (Check out this video, a Spanish/English conversation with the head of the archives and museum for the College of Osteopathy. If you are Native and/or a person of color, some warning that the Director shares a lot of important information also is deeply embedded in his own settler mindset so his framing of this information can be painful.) There is no “knowing,” and what seems to be true are a few different things: first, that Dr. Still was descended from the Lumbee Tribe meaning, was of Native descent himself. It sounds as though his father and grandfather separated from the tribe and began assimilating into Christian whiteness. And that Dr. Still felt a mix of rejection of that assimilation and grief for how his mother’s line and parts of his father’s line had been violent towards local tribes. In listening to this video (and hearing from others), it’s clear that our founder’s intimacy with Lumbee and then later Shawnee people, culture and practices is stronger than I understood when first writing this piece. My personal lineage is similar to Dr. Stills, being three generations removed from cultural practice and identity within my tribal line (and removed into whiteness). I am grateful to all who have taught me about how to be in right relationship to this, not claiming more than is here, but also refusing to let the genocide win and disappear entirely. I appreciate what Dr. Still was trying to do, within the context of his time, although I still would call out his use of ancestors’ bones (without consent) for learning. When I wrote this, I was writing it somewhat carefully, like here is a story, but after listening to this video, I am stunned, painfully, by how KNOWN this history is, this intimacy with Lumbee and Shawnee culture, this learning of specific touch techniques from Shawnee healers. My call out goes to our field as a whole — the fact that we stopped telling the truth of this story and everything else that is written in here. All of this continues to ask those of us who are the inheritors of these teachings, how do we honor our origins, here on this land, when so many of us who are practitioners are only descended from those who took. Are you going to continue the taking?

Originally published at on January 25, 2020.

Thinking about the healing in justice and the justice in healing.

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