Join Natalie Avalos, an assistant professor of Native American and Indigenous Studies in the Ethnic Studies department at University of Colorado Boulder. She is an ethnographer of religion who received her Ph.D. in Religious Studies from the University of California at Santa Barbara with a special focus on Native American and Indigenous Religious Traditions and Tibetan Buddhism. She is currently working on her manuscript titled Decolonizing Metaphysics: Transnational Indigeneities and Religious Refusal, which explores urban Indian and Tibetan refugee religious life as decolonial praxis. She is a Chicana of Mexican Indigenous descent, born and raised in the Bay Area.

In this talk, Avalos will discuss "Restoring Equitable Relations: Deep Witnessing and Healing Racial Trauma." The mere discussions of racism and whiteness as a currency of power can anger and annoy, manifesting in white rage or what psychotherapist Resmaa Menakem calls dirty pain. In this talk, I link Indigenous and decolonial theory to research on historical and Racial Trauma (RT) to understand the white disavowal of racism as an enduring harm that perpetuates racial trauma but also what Buddhists call ignorance. Decolonial scholars argue that European settlers in the Americas deemed Indigenous peoples as ontologically inferior and incapable of material autonomy to justify their dispossession. Indigenous mental health experts describe the trauma impacting Indigenous peoples as a “soul wound” or historical trauma—an aggrieved form of PTSD resulting from mass genocides, forced removal, and epistemic violence that is passed down over generations. Menakem frames the differential experience of racialization among those deemed white and “bodies of culture” as white body supremacy (Menakem 2017). In this sense, racialization, and its attendant asymmetries of power, produce material but also ontological inequities. I understand white disavowals of racism as a protective mechanism, shielding those deemed white from the profound gravity, and attendant shame, of understanding racism’s material and ontological impact on the racialized. I argue that the differential experiences of racialization can only be resolved by cultivating both an epistemic and somatic awareness of these harms. Drawing on the work of bell hooks and Thich Nhat Hahn who ask us to lean into the suffering created by structural violence as well as Indigenous theorists who frame healing as a return to equitable relations, I discuss how honest assessments of differential power (hooks 1996) along with deep witnessing can facilitate collective, ontological healing.  

More Info


Questions? Contact Ivan Mayerhofer in the Chaplains’ Office at