European American Guiding Principles and Processes for Engaging in Cultural and Anti-racism Work 

Contributors to this document: Elders Janice Barbee, Kaia Svien, Cara Carlson, Sara Axtell and Craig Hassel

Our study together began in 1996 in an initiative called Healthy Powderhorn that grew into the present day Cultural Wellness Center. These community understandings and practices grew out of our work together and are informed by the Center’s Cultural Wellness Approach to health and healing. These teachings are offered as a support, to guide our study and practices toward community healing. 

Guiding principle – A fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief and behavior or for a chain of reasoning.

Our Understanding and Purpose

We approach this work with a sense of deep humility, knowing that our people, racialized for centuries as white, have caused harm and that our people continue to cause harm through systems and individual acts of racism, colonization and domination.

After being severed abruptly from this earth-based knowing at various times and places throughout Europe, most of us have been subjected to centuries of oppression by wealthy and powerful elites. This work is for the healing and wellbeing of people of all cultures, for BIPOC and people racialized as white.

Our Process

Unlearning and “Disminding”: Much of our work and effort begins by unlearning and healing from patterns of domination and whiteness and remembering or learning and practicing healthy cultural patterns of being in the world.

Studying Our History: We study our history in an effort to gain a greater understanding of how we got here as a people. We understand that history is present with us, and that traumas that people have experienced in generations past continue to live out in people’s bodies and experiences, as well as in the structures in our society.

  • We study our personal and family history to understand how our patterns may be cultural or part of our cultural inheritance. 
  • We study the history of our country to better understand how whiteness and racism have been embedded in government policy, in institutions, in science, and in the thinking and practices of society. 
  • We study our cultural history: 
    • We need clarity and a strong cultural foundation in order to heal, work together and to do cross-cultural work. Our own cultural work is often a missing piece in anti-racist work.  We must begin with the question, “On what foundation do I stand?”  We look for both the unhealthy and healthy beliefs and practices.  The healthy ones give us that foundation to stand on. 
    • We honor our European indigenous roots by opening to the vitality and vision they hold for us in our personal lives. We examine the forces within our history that have separated us from this root knowledge, and the impact that those separations continue to have on us, deeply affecting our relationship to ourselves, to others of our own culture and different cultures, to the land and other species.

Building Community: We actively engage in this process of cultural self-study as a part of a community. Otherwise, we continue to perpetuate whiteness and individualism and ideas of being able to recreate ourselves as separate from history and community. (And this may reinforce ideas of being a “special” white person.)  We recognize that this work can only be done within community; no individual can hold the pain and the responsibility of the system of whiteness and the disconnection from our cultural roots.

Creating Space: We create space within our cultural community to pose questions about our ideas and understandings with the goal of co-creating a healthy community and a sense of a healthy cultural identity. This process is anchored in discernment and inquiry and creates space for grief, loss, pain and suffering.

Our Principles

  • We look for what feels true to us…our bodies, emotions, fears, beliefs, reactivity and engaging in a process of disentangling what we have been taught ourselves and “others.” This work calls for our whole being. The embodiment of the spiritual, emotional, intellectual, embodied, communal, and collective.
  • We work to deepen our capacity to be in a place of paradox, ambiguity, and “not knowing” rather than rushing to a “solution”. We seek to understand culture and our own experience from a place of both/and rather than either/or.
  • We support other European Americans to be in right relationship, in a learning environment and process, and building community together.
  • We support and practice healthy patterns of action toward repair. We actively work toward healing justice that honors the whole.
  • When we are in conflict with another person, we study ourselves. We use our confusion and conflict as opportunities to further fuel our cultural self-study.
  • We appreciate, honor and respect the beauty and depth of all cultures.
  • We recognize that all the elements of a cultural system are interconnected. We avoid taking symbols, rituals, stories out of their cultural context. We strive to be as fully immersed as possible in a cultural system as a whole. We honor the vitality and teachings of our heritage by being able to comment on a contemporary situation through a reference to a particular element of our culture.
  • As much as possible, we find out where ritual, story, and practice come from. We give credit to the sources of knowledge when we are sharing it, and we are clear about where things come from when we are exploring a concept that is new to us.
  • It’s never helpful to try and define others’ cultural history and the meaning that it has.
  • We seek to create spaces to share knowledge across cultures.  We look for parallels in our own cultural knowledge system. When invited by elders and teachers, we learn from teachings from other cultures and allow them to inform our study and perspectives.
  • Culture always has connections to place and local community experience. We are mindful that our norms, interpretations, and practices are our local practice and not universal.
  • We acknowledge elders, ancestors, and teachers who have come before us in this work.
  • We take responsibility for the next generation as an essential principle of a healthy practice.
  • We recognize the complexity of culture and are mindful not to oversimplify or romanticize culture.
  • We practice in ways that examine our actions and inactions that deny or erase the dignity, worth, and humanity of all people.