June 20, 2023

Dr. Ruby Gibson – Healing Historical Trauma

Dr. Ruby Gibson; author, cultural healer and advocate, and the developer of Somatic Archaeology© joins Thomas for a second conversation. They dive deep into Ruby’s life’s work offering healing to Native Americans. They discuss methods of healing that address the historical and ongoing traumatization of Native American communities, and how she weaves traditional spiritual protocols into newer methodologies. Ruby explains that Indigenous people view life as a wheel in which everything is interconnected and that individual healing is inextricably linked to communal healing. She stresses the importance of healing in groups in order to foster a sense of belonging, something that Native people struggle with after enduring genocide and discrimination. She and Thomas explore the role that Mother Earth plays in the healing process, and how praying over scarred and embattled places can be spiritually restorative.

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“Shame is someone else’s guilt in your body. Give it back to them.”

- Dr. Ruby Gibson

Guest Information

Dr. Ruby Gibson

A woman of Lakota/Ojibwe and Mediterranean descent, Dr. Gibson has spent the past 40 years dedicated to the craft and science of Historical Trauma reconciliation, cultural healing, and generational well-being among Native and Indigenous Peoples. Dr. Gibson founded Freedom Lodge, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, in Rapid City, SD to serve our relatives and communities.

Dr. Gibson developed the transgenerational trauma recovery model Somatic Archaeology©. and is the author of My Body, My Earth, The Practice of Somatic Archaeology, and My Body, My Breath, A Tool for Transformation, which are available in English, Romanian and Spanish.

Dr. Gibson developed and teaches a Historical Trauma Master Class, and builds leadership skills in Native Wellness amongst the graduates. She also teaches a Somatic Archaeology© Master Class for non—Native students. Using our Body and Mother Earth as benevolent sources of biological, emotional and ancestral memory, Dr. Ruby’s techniques are being evaluated and researched among her students with amazing effectiveness. She is honored to witness the courage and amazing capacity that each person has to reconcile suffering. As the mother of four beautiful children, one granddaughter, and two grandsons, Dr. Ruby has a heart full of hope for the next seven generations!

Learn more about Ruby and her work at freedomlodge.org

Notes & Resources

Key points from this episode include:

  • Humans, plants, animals, and minerals are aspects of a unified, inseparable world
  • How Ruby’s work reminds people of the primary cultural ideas and standards that people have been cut off from, giving them a knowledge base that was “Christianized” out of them
  • Ruby’s loyalty to her creator-given gift and how it’s evolved to blaze a path where no path has been
  • Healing is interconnected – we’re never just working on one individual, there’s always a ripple effect
  • The importance of asking the question: “What would you do if you were free?”

Episode Transcript

Thomas Hübl: Welcome to the Point of Relation. My name is Thomas Hübl and I’m really delighted and very happy to be speaking to you, Ruby Gibson today here on my podcast. So very warm welcome, Ruby.

Dr. Ruby Gibson: Thank you, Thomas, happy to be here with you today.

Thomas: I remember not too long ago we had a very lovely and very deep conversation about cultural healing, about many aspects of trauma healing and trauma healing in the Native American community. I would love to deepen our conversation today. I felt a lot of resonance and warmth and I think we have many things in common. It makes it very exciting to have this conversation, so I’m happy we can dive in again. And maybe to start with, let’s see, what’s the leading edge of your work at the moment? So what’s the most exciting thing where you feel your own development is flourishing from your work and where are the new things that are rising? What makes you feel excited about what you do at the moment?

Dr. Gibson: Well, it’s really the work I do that is the manifestation of a lifelong dream. So I’m just happy and we’re growing so quickly every day. Typically when we have our year-long training, the Historical Trauma Master Class, we typically have 20 to 25 people. This year we have 50 people. And it’s quite remarkable to do that kind of training for 50 people online. It’s a challenge, one that I look forward to. We have a strong group of trainers, so training people to do what I do because I want this modality and this work to thrive.

Thomas: Yeah, of course. And so when you say Historical Trauma Master Class, can you expand a little bit? What do people learn? What are you deepening in this training?

Dr. Gibson: The training is spread out probably over six or seven months. It’s a 200-hour program and it’s only open to Native Americans. So we have many intertribal classes and we’re pulling from all sorts of different reservations and communities around both urban and rural Native America and bringing people together. And they’re having you know when you become like a Johnny Appleseed of sorts and you’re planting seeds over old wounds and planting seeds for seven years now. And I know seven is a really important number for cycles. And so we’re revisiting a lot of what we do and also seeing exponential growth in what we do. It’s been very powerful. The feedback that our students give, and we’re in the middle of lots of evaluation and research of our program to make sure that we’re meeting the needs of our community. And yeah, it’s just we’ve been climbing a long mountain and to get to the top, that’s what I’m feeling. It just brings tears to my eyes because the road has been so long to get to this place. Nonetheless, here we are.

Thomas: That’s so beautiful. You said last time because you said, now the road was so long. You said last time that you feel that you came to a point where things opened up. And I think it was also in your conversation with the grandmothers that something broke through, came through, and or opened up more so that they became a flow. Maybe you can speak to that quality or that experience that you had and how that felt when things opened up because it’s kind of interesting for all of us to see how we mature and mature and to certain things, flower and bear fruits, and speaking about the long journey. And so can you speak a little bit about the quality and how you felt that suddenly it’s more open and flowing?

Dr. Gibson: You know, early on in my career, I was a licensed massage therapist and it was one of the first ways that I could find to get my hands on people. From that point that you’re speaking about was kind of the beginning of this seven-year cycle that we are completing right now. But there was a sense of acceptance of destiny. Deep, deep gratitude for being the carrier of this body of work. I have gone to countless ceremonies in Hawaii, Columbia, South America, and Canada. You know, Romania – many, many places. I’ve experienced those cultural ceremonies. And there are some common denominators to those. And so I started to look at the work that I was doing in relationship to the collective need, as we’ve spoken about.

But it was like the goddesses were gifting me. It was both a gift and a challenge. And if I was up for that challenge and at that moment, there was nothing in my way. I had done so much healing work on myself with my work, somatic archeology, and kind of as we excavate our body. Some people will just excavate the surface of their body and okay, I feel better now. And other people want to leave no stone unturned. I’m one of those people. So I have thoroughly, thoroughly past anything that was bothering me. And I was a little too much at that point, I guess, in my late fifties and there’s a funny thing about spirits. They have their own time and timeline, and you either have to adapt to it or confront that. And, you know, I remember when my children were young and the grandmothers were like, okay, come on, we gotta get out there. We got a good talk. We gotta write books. And I was like, Excuse me, but I’m a mother first. And when my last child graduates from high school, you can have me. And I’m willing to do that work.

So I made that agreement with them, and after my son graduated – my book was published. So they timed everything. And it’s been since that moment that it’s just been a nonstop blessing of experience through people, money, and resources. And then I have to figure out how to manifest and put them into action. Fortunately, we have a good team and people who are really dedicated, so we’re able to run this program. This is seven years and we’re starting our next cycle. So we’ll see. I mean, I have no doubt, because there are so many people within our community who have studied with me who are committed. Did that as a path of their recovery. And, you know, it’s a lot because there’s a lot of problems. But, you know, it’s just one person. So a lot of time and helping people get well and someone else sees them get well and then their family starts getting well. You know, it’s just like a flower that’s blooming. And I get to watch and I get to kind of direct it where I feel like I’m just part of the mix, you know?

Thomas: Very beautiful to listen to your guidance and how life unfolds through you and how you as you said, you’re part of the mix, your part of the stream or a river. And it’s beautiful to feel when you speak. You said that there are a lot of issues to be taken care of. First of all, think the Native American community has suffered severe trauma but it’s not that it suffered, but is still suffering and that it’s an ongoing traumatization, and then certain circumstances are still in place. And I would love to hear you speak a little bit about how you deal with the fact and also in your recovery or trauma recovery process when there is historic trauma and there’s also ongoing traumatization, there’s ongoing discrimination, there’s ongoing violence and ongoing circumstances that are difficult and systemically changed by the entire state. I mean, how can we experience the healing process within that kind of circumstance? And does it make any difference? How do you deal with the ongoing circumstances?

Dr. Gibson: Well, this is a good question. You know, we have many cultural protocols in our communities and some of them are very different than other ones. Another one is but and this was part of what I really want to talk about is that what Native peoples or indigenous peoples have in common is they view life as a circle. And so let’s say the legacy of the Lakota tribe that I’m part of, that’s where our main offices are located next to Pine Ridge Reservation. You have to be able to hold your own, first of all. And if you don’t follow the spiritual protocols that have been passed forward, no one will pay any attention to you because, you know, there are already things on set. So you have to take the protocols of the people and find a way to weave the work in there.

One of the protocols is the Wheel of Life. So it is viewed that everything is related. So on this wheel, it encompasses a nation. And how the Lakota cope with stress from trauma, war is the same as the buffalo. Because the buffalo was their best friend and ally. They were dependent upon each other. When the buffalo are endangered, they’ll take all the children and put them in the center of the wheel. And then all the elders will get around those children. And then around that is all the cows, the mothers. And then on the outside of that ring with the bulls – the Tatanka, the strong. That’s the way the buffalo protect themselves. And consequently, that’s how the people protect themselves. They follow those same kinds of principles. And every culture, depending on, you know, whether the food source was sheep or, you know, buffalo or fish, whatever their primary food source. We begin to live in a relationship with that.

We have the Wheel of Life as not only a compass. But it is also a representation of the whole. And so when you do the ceremony, you’re acknowledging all of that, everything that’s below, everything above, everything within, everything without. And it becomes the way that people unconsciously communicate. And, you know, the problem is, though, that when the war happened and the men got shot down, they were killed in mass quantities. The women, you know, could not really hold their own. They became the warriors of the tribes. But they also were the mothers. But a lot of the grandmothers, and grandfathers take care of the children because the women are out doing the men’s jobs.

So the cultural basis and foundation are just all messed up, you know, got all messed up. So when we talk about the circle of Life, we talk about everything because it all exists where the human world, the plant world, the mineral world, and the animal world are all one world, and it’s represented in there. So we can’t take a human out of that wheel without looking at the relationship between the whole. When we try to just heal on our own from our human experience and our brain – it is a kind of shortcut but so much that is missed. I’m not sure if I’m explaining that well, because I don’t have this conversation very much anymore, so. But if you understand the culture. Fortunately for me, my teacher was grandfather Frank Fulscrow, who was the chief spiritual leader of the Olalawasu, and he lived to be close to 100. In his later years, I was a foster parent for his great-grandchildren. We spent a lot of time at the ceremony together. He was an amazing, magical human being, and he became my inspiration and my guide, and the person who helped me to understand all of this at a deeper level because my father was adopted. So I wasn’t raised on the Res. And so, there’s a lot we can look at.

Some people are only comfortable with all tribal people, but we’re such a mixed race now. You know, some of those protocols and those standards have had to change. So there’s a sense of growth and power for our communities, and there’s also a lot of drug and alcohol use, gangs, and stuff like that. It’s suicide. It’s a very intense and emotionally explosive kind of field. And so in a way, we’re just resourcing and kind of reminding people of these primary cultural ideas standards, because a lot of the students, the children got cut off from that knowledge base because they were put in boarding schools or they were Christianized out of them. And so, you know, it’s not only helping to rebuild the person but looking at it through a nation. You know, this work can do it then that I’ve seen it change people and I’ve seen it change communities. The goal is for all, that there is wellness and that we can procure that wellness and we don’t have to go broke getting well since it’s so available. You know, sometimes I wonder why Peter gave me this gift, and I have a loyalty inside of me, to it and people in general. So it’s just been an evolution of me and the evolution of our community and kind of trying to blaze a path where no path has been. But I have all faith that it will happen.

Thomas: Yeah, there are some powerful things today, at least today here when I listen to you – to create a path where there has been no path before. So you need to create something out of nothing because it’s coming through you and others, maybe together with others. So that’s very powerful. Like, how can we walk a path and create as we walk? That’s very interesting. Another principle that I heard is that we can do something that’s very much somehow how in the West, by modern thinking, we think of individuals as kind of separate entities within the ecosystem. And that we can think individually only within the ecosystem and not as a separate particle within it as interdependent, interconnected. And that’s, I think, a very powerful invitation to rethink health.

If you think of health in a separate way or if you think health is an ecosystemic aspect and also trauma healing is an ecosystemic aspect. thing. I would love you to talk a little bit more about that ecosystemic aspect and how that shows up in your trauma healing that you do in the healing work that you do. Like how this relates to groups and how we do in groups together. When you said you have your training program and what’s the difference between healing one-on-one and healing one-in-many as a group? And what’s your different experience when you look back at the healing work that you’re doing?

Dr. Gibson: I feel like working people one at a time is like the Ice Age for me. It doesn’t exist in my consciousness because every time you touch someone, they touch someone else. So never, ever are we just working on one individual. And I recognized that kind of ripple effect, especially if we’re looking at seven generations behind us and seven generations ahead of us. We’re standing at the peak of 14 generations. How do we want to behave? What legacy do we want to leave? Can we do that all by ourselves? Or is that a bigger job? You know, because we belong. And that’s one of the most important things.

One of the things that get struggled a lot in our community is ‘Who do I belong to?’ Because we got mixed bloods, full bloods, you know? People who work professionally, people who work ceremonially. There are all sorts of different dynamics to people and the way they operate and their own sense of judgment around it. So, like in any birth, you simply sit and wait. Because you know that it eventually is going to move through this person. If you’re in that general energetic field of people, it’s going to influence you. And so we work a lot with youth, you know, in that case. I work one on one with my trainees and my trainers. Because there are these exponential growth processes and they need to be functional and really understand the work and what triggers them so that they can be a good trainer. I never used to do presentations online but since 2020 and we’ve been zoomed out here and I never thought

I could sit in front of 200 people not be able to see any of them, but yet just begin to resonate with this group and try to feel into what they need, where the energy is going. You know, how I’m communicating. It’s awkward in many ways, it’s not natural, but we’ve had to normalize those kinds of processes. So it really takes us out of kind of one-on-one. You know, that’s my issue. That’s your issue. The more people that take responsibility for that and themselves, the community will change. But it goes at a snail’s pace. So we have 500 tribes. And there is a good amount of people still living in reservations which are really where you see the suffering strongly. But it’s a hard thing to get away from genocide. It’s hard to feel like you belong when you’re so broken. So we always start there. We belong with each other. We belong to each other. That means we have responsibility for each other. That’s really the message that I’m trying to get. To help people see so that they can be proactive in this process of recovery.

Everybody has a lot of judgment because nobody trusts anyone, especially something that’s new. If you make it culturally competent and in alignment with the values of that community, then you know, that’s half the struggle. And then the rest is just witnessing it from maybe a higher viewpoint. We can soar over all those lives we’ve touched and feel it. They are very well known for their humor. So, you know, there’s beauty and there’s grief in it. The thing that we have a big issue with is shame. Shame, Shame, Shame! In so many different ways. People ask me, Well, what do I do without really shame? I said, give it back. Shame is somebody else’s guilt in your body. You give it back to the perpetrator or where that came from. You’re just carrying it for them so they don’t have to. Are you willing to sit like that your entire life? Give it back. And then we go into that process and it is usually resolved in one session.

We’ve been able to shortcut and make trauma healing very simple. I give everybody a choice. You can either meet this as a warrior, as a magician, or as a lover. We can meet them in all those ways. I said I used to be a warrior, so I’m just a magician now. So then we have that conversation about where we’ve been and how we’ve been meeting the challenges in our lives. It’s so multi-level, and you have to, for me, have to just be in love with life and not see this as an overwhelming issue that we can’t do anything about. I’m really just about the cure and know no matter where I go, what community – African-American communities or Romanian communities, you know, everybody’s really looking for the same thing. Because there’s been loss through colonization and so many. Right.

Thomas: I want to say something that you said before that I really like. I mean, you said many things I really like. The one that I want to highlight: it’s once we see the necessity and everybody or many people in the community start to do their own work, the community starts to heal. I think that’s a beautiful way of viewing oneself as a part of the collective healing process, that we have to play an individual tune within an orchestra of healing. And I think that’s a very powerful way to feel one’s own responsibility and participation as a citizen or part of a group or as a human being. How we do not only ourselves, but all have an impact on the ecosystem that we are part of a community. That was a powerful thing you said.

Dr. Gibson: It is, but the ecosystem also has a powerful effect on us. So, when we have a circle of life and this is how somatic archeology is built – in the center is the first step. There’s like five steps: I notice, I sense, I feel, I interpret and I reconcile it. That’s all it is. So we go to the center of our body or the center of the wheel, and we notice what’s going on inside us. Around me. What’s happening? What’s my dream like? Where do I struggle? Where do I feel like I’m holding pain? You know, just do a check-in. And then we go to the Sense. So there’s one area that in particular has been causing problems or feels out of bounds. And we bring attention there. And that’s to the west. The West is the mineral world. So it’s the solid state, the body, the mineral world that holds us. Holds our homes, our earth. It holds us. And we view the crystals of Mother Earth as brains. And so we’re also walking in kind of having that crystalline energy wake you up. And that is something that I made up. This is like an age-old tradition. I just found a way to put my model into it. So we got a notice and the West, I sense. And we just feel what’s happening in my body – is it strong, is it weak, does it move, is it stuck? We examine sensation. And then we move from the west to the south, which is the place of the plant world, water – what are we processing? What are those emotions that are moving? Typically, someone will, once they connect with sensation, they’ll have this physical, emotional response to it. And then we go straight up the wheel to the north.

The north is the place of the animal world. Representation of the Wild West inside of us. So we go to the north and we interpret what it is that we just experienced. We don’t stop there. We go to the right of the wheel, which is the place of the humans, and it’s also the east, which is the place of spirit. And so that’s where we reconcile what’s changed, what’s the same? What do you notice? What is your truth? And my favorite question: what would you do to feel free? And that’s one section. Then you come back to the center. Close up the session.

To be that person who guides someone around the wheel is a traditional knowledge known as the zero chiefs. The zero chief is just the one who sits in the center of the wheel. Doesn’t need to go anywhere because they’re intact. And so, the more you do the work with someone else, you become your own zero chiefs. It’s just been remarkable. That’s something that is out of context in any tradition I know. Unless there are sacred traditions for which there are many. But that idea of the zero chief means that we embrace all of this – and I’m just one part of all of that. So I can’t just isolate myself and say, what are all my issues? Because we’re not looking at the big picture of that or the history of that. When we can do that, then we can stand at the top with those two seven generations before and after and be the agent of change. Behind this and that. That might have been a little unusual, but…

Thomas: No, that’s just beautiful. I love it. The zero chief has the maturity to hold a space and to sit in the space. That’s a very powerful metaphor and framing of the quality of facilitation.

Dr. Gibson: Being empty and full at the same time.

Thomas: Exactly. Yeah, exactly. It’s just beautiful and lovely. So there are many things that I deeply resonate with. This seems so close and very resonant when I see my experience running groups or sitting with people. I remember the last time you told me that you are kind of building or creating a place or a center. Can you speak a little bit about that and how it progresses and what is your vision for this place?

Dr. Gibson: The vision for this place is to create the first of many historical trauma recovery centers in the U.S., where tribal nations like maybe Albuquerque, the plains, on the coasts so that people have access, they don’t have to go that far. We at this point provide all of our services to tribal members for free. We use all of our funding to work with people who don’t have the resources. We’ve been blessed for the past seven years to not want for anything. And so I guess where we’re at now is that I need to hire someone to help do this because I’m a healer and a writer, but I’m not a builder, so. So it’s like trying to access the funding. Someone sees it as valuable, and then within that system, we will do billing so that the therapists can actually get paid and the client can receive a free session. So it’s kind of you know, there’s a commitment to it all in there. We have to just do one at a time and kind of wait for the demand to reach out to our communities.

What’s important to them is a thing they would accept in their community. You know, you have to have allies in any place. We’re kind of in the thick of it. We’ve been at a couple of funding events that are reaching out to help support this. I feel like we have some support and I’m publishing some professional papers and things just to get more awareness of what we’re doing. All that groundwork, budgets, and design. It’s a big project. It’s beyond my scope. I need to hire someone to do it. But that’s where I’ve gotten to raising funds to pay someone to help navigate it because I can’t do any more than I’m already doing. Anyway. I think it’s the next seven-year phase.

Thomas: You see the next cycle of the work that’s filling in and establishing a center. And I think it’s also important that you need somebody to work alongside you on this is not something you can do. I think that’s an important phase for how we open the circle for other people to step in – such an exciting part of the journey.

Dr. Gibson: It is so needed. I’m 65 and in seven years, I’ll be 72. I’m kind of assuming after that, passing the torch. And it’s hard not staying young forever and keep rolling with it. As all things should.

Thomas: So it’s interesting. We have seven years to do some more work together. I think many things that you speak about, resonate with me, most of the deep groundedness and interconnectedness of life, which I think is such an important aspect of health and well-being. So that seems very resonant for me. And I would love to see it maybe before we finish our conversation today. Is there anything you would love to share that we didn’t touch on that you think is important to everybody who’s listening right now to you get deeper into your world and be more connected to what you do?

Dr. Gibson: You know there is a lot on YouTube – Freedom Lodge. There’s a lot of information there. If you wanted to just kind of revisit some of our history. It seems like there’s fragility these days. I think I feel it because we’re careless with Mother Earth. I don’t know where this came from, but I think from the grandmothers, I guess it’s this thing called global warming woman. And she’s like an archetype for transforming firepower, energy, and anger. What it does, it’s a way to go, be in a relationship with the Earth, and act on behalf of the Earth. I have this vision of going to burial sites, battlegrounds, or like Wounded Knee where there’s a lot of pain, and go pray at those places. Almost like we would do a somatic archeology session on her body, we should do a somatic archeology session on Mother Earth because I think she’s burdened with so much history, war, bombing, attack, and toxicity that she needs help.

For me, that’s the ultimate and collective feeling is to be able to sit with Mother Earth and listen to her and provide whatever energy – love, witness it, and do that. And we have so many places that we can go as a kind of repair. Places that have been mined, drilled – just all these scars. To be able to witness all those scars, to honor the scars. There’s a lineage to everything. That’s what calls me from the deepest sense of myself walking a road that’s much more integrative. So what has happened and how do we restore those places and make them sacred again? Water, rocks, stones, plants, animals that guide me, you know, they are all speaking to me because it’s about their home. So, that’s my spiritual thing. For me, it’s all the same.

Thomas: I was going to say this is all interconnected dreams. It is lovely that your prayer is a collective prayer, holding the planet in awareness with its scars and wounds, and I think you’re speaking something very healthy when we have a very human-centric worldview. This helps us to open up and be a part of a bigger system and not just dominate that system.

Dr. Gibson: And we can implant that system.

Thomas: Beautiful. Ruby, first of all, I thank you for your time and I still would love to. I mean, we’re doing it right now, but I would love to see the kind of projects we can collaborate on. I think it’s very resonant for me. And it’s a joy to listen to you. I’m happy that you joined the podcast here, and I hope that many people will listen to this and be inspired by your wisdom and hopefully also find you and your work. Thank you so much.

Dr. Gibson: Thank you for this conversation. You know, a person sometimes stirring things up that you didn’t know. You have a good capacity to bring things up to the surface and acknowledge them. You’re very perceptive. And thank you, Thomas, for honoring me today. It’s a good day to celebrate Mother Earth.

Thomas: That’s beautiful. Thank you very much.