Transforming the Mythology of Who We Were Raised To Be: A Conversation about Our History of Harm and Repaying the Unpayable Debt [Episode 7]

Generation after generation, we have been taught to stuff down and ignore the depth of suffering within our colonialist history. For writer and community organizer, Hilary Giovale, a series of unexpected ancestral interventions woke her from this fog of amnesia and denial, shifting her life’s work towards collective grieving, truth-telling, apology, and forgiveness. Hilary begins our conversation with a magical story about how the sacred mountain where she lives orchestrates unbelievable acts of healing and reconciliation. We also explore the importance of sitting with our feelings and letting them change us for good, the power of sound and movement as critical tools of embodied decolonization, and the tremendous healing potential of having a personal reparations plan.

Here are the highlights:

(4:12) Hilary describes her beloved relationship with the sacred mountain of kinship that she lives with. Learning directly from the Indigenous stewards of this place has deepened her relationship with this mountain in ways she never could have dreamed on her own.

(7:03) Hilary tells a story about one of the mountain peaks close to where she lives- colonially known as "Agassiz Peak"- and how this sacred mountain has woven a connection (and physical meeting) between the family of the white settler and namesake of this place, a descendent of those harmed by Agassiz, and the Indigenous youth fighting to have the name of this sacred mountain (their Grandmother), changed at the federal level.

(14:00) When everything within our mainstream culture seems to be conspiring to keep us asleep, staying awake, whether through our senses, minds, or hearts, can be a sacred commitment. All of us carry these legacies of pain, whether we realize it or not, because our colonialist history hasn’t truly been spoken about or acknowledged in any lasting, fundamental way.

(19:08) Working with an ancestor altar can provide a container of support when the depth of our grief or other feelings arise. When we honestly sit with our feelings (instead of numbing out, ignoring, or trying to fix our way through), we can let it change us for good. If we do not do this inner work first, there is the potential for the same cycles of harm to stay alive within us.

(25:38) We can use the power of sound, drumming, or dancing as embodied practices of moving intense feelings through our bodies. Thrashing, flailing, rolling on the ground- it might be ugly but that is one of the reasons it works so well.

(30:09) We must transform the mythology of who we were raised to be. In her personal journey, Hilary has had to create a new sense of self based on learning about her ancestors and understanding the longer arc of history.

(32:00) Patterns of intergenerational harm were created over thousands of years in Europe where practices of colonization originated. All of those years acted as a template for a condensed program of genocide that was then enacted on this continent.

(39:13) After much learning and contemplation, Hilary feels that one of the most important acts we can take to become a good relative is to set up a personal reparations plan. She describes how she has used her ancestral story as a blueprint to creating her plan. She calls this “repaying the unpayable debt,” acknowledging that these harms can never be truly resolved but that there is healing in the effort, the action, the trying.


Hilary Giovale:

Statements of Support to Change the Name of Agassiz Peak, email [email protected]

Hilary’s Guide to Making a Personal Reparations Plan

Hilary’s website, Good Relative, is a wealth of knowledge, study, and opportunities for inner work and healing. If you need more, here are a few books that are sitting by my bedside table right now :

Hospicing Modernity: Facing Humanity’s Wrongs and the Implications for Social Activism by Vanessa Machado de Oliveira

Against Purity: Living Ethically in Compromised Times by Alexis Shotwell

Staying with the Troubles: Making Kin in the Chthulucene by Donna Haraway


                        “We are remembering the remembering.” Robin Kimmerer