Ancestral Medicine Statement on Conflict Resolution

Update from Daniel (November 30, 2020):

On the morning of October 19th, 2020 ten previous members of the Ancestral Medicine practitioner and trainee network along with other anonymous signatories posted an Open Letter Regarding Daniel Foor & Ancestral Medicine on the Medium platform.

In the weeks since the letter was posted, our team at Ancestral Medicine has been focused on generative engagement with the 68 practitioners and trainees in the Ancestral Medicine network. In close collaboration with our primary leadership development advisor since November of 2019, Tovi Scruggs Hussein we’ve held three network-wide circles (a meeting in late October and two restorative circles facilitated by Tovi in November), a survey to those the network inviting input and assessing for impact or concerns, and extensive conversations between me, Tovi, the Ancestral Medicine leadership team, some folks in the network, and our dedicated staff who have been responding to inquiries while honoring our policies on conflict resolution (see below). We take the concerns seriously as we have since they were first raised in late 2018 / early 2019.

I recognize that some who have read the open letter may be left wondering what is true and who is trustworthy. My intent is to make a more thorough public statement responding to specific elements of the letter in early 2021. There are several reasons for this official statement not happening sooner:

First, the Ancestral Medicine leadership team is holding the door open a bit longer for anyone who has previously left the network and who may wish to engage in any restorative process or mediation before it becomes a largely public process on the stage of social media in a way that risks reinforcing an already fairly stuck dynamic. To anyone who has left the network, the same offer that has been present since early 2019 for professional mediation or dialogue in the spirit of resolution still stands; just reach out. We are flexible about the form that could take provided there is any kind of professional container or process that supports the intent of healing and resolution. We are aware that there was no request for any type of engagement in the Medium post, and we are nonetheless holding that door open with sincerity and kindness.

Second, I am on a two-month sabbatical until Jan 18th, during which time I’ll still tend to critical prior obligations (e.g., online courses, basic social media presence via AM staff) but will otherwise anchor in with family and introspection. Although the most substantive organizational changes and accompanying personal shifts happened for me in mid to late 2019, I continue to be fruitfully challenged to refine my leadership and embodiment of both personal and organizational core values. This choice to make dedicated space for reflection was requested by several in the network and also supported by Tovi to be certain I give full consideration to concerns raised before any public reply. During this time, Tovi and our team will still be responsive if anyone reaches out.

Third, almost nothing in the post was new information. I have not spoken with anyone who signed the letter since late 2019 or early 2020 as most signatories either left or were asked to leave the Ancestral Medicine collegial network in 2019. That context is not shared to minimize the nature of the concerns, only to underscore that we dedicated extensive time and energy to these issues as a network and as a leadership team from December 2018 to January 2020, including with numerous conflict-resolution meetings, network-wide circles and attempts at restorative process. Sadly, this means that many who signed the letter may not be aware of the substantial changes and improvements, many of which happened in late 2019 into early 2020 (due in large part to valuable feedback given throughout 2019). 

To highlight one way in which this failure to account for positive changes made is negatively impacting those now active with the organization, on the same morning that the open letter was posted on Medium, the fourth cohort of 33 ancestral healing practitioners began their final day of shared ritual and training before bringing their ancestor-focused offerings into the world. The open letter and its timing on the most potent day of their training process has reverberated for many of those individuals in divisive, traumatic, and harmful ways.  Many have felt it as an attack on them, not isolated to me. That, too, has been painful to witness in the space of trusting collegial community.

Also with the intent to provide context, not to dismiss or minimize concerns expressed in the open letter, those involved in the larger work of Ancestral Medicine in calendar year 2020 include six full-time staff, the 68 ritualists from eight countries in the practitioner and trainee network as well as their clients in ancestral healing, 40+ part-time paid supporter-ritualists for online courses, and over 4,000 online course participants from 35+ nations. The feedback on our offerings this year from the thousands actively involved has been overwhelmingly positive, again due in part to beneficial changes made. We are learning as we go, and the concerns of the signatories of the letter do not represent all involved. 

With respect to the fresh impact on the hundreds of people not in the practitioner and trainee network who are now reading the open letter without context, the reality that many of the concerns were addressed in earnest over a year ago further inclines me to move slowly and with curiosity if anyone who signed the letter wishes to re-engage in ways that could potentially bridge this gap. 

Finally, I’m resisting the pull to move at the speed of social media call-outs. This approach lacks a container and feels dysregulated as a way to work in areas where trust has been broken. I’m not convinced it supports the kinds of breakthroughs, healing, and restoration that I want to believe are still possible in some cases. So I am prioritizing those inclined to participate in dialogue, mediation, or other types of restorative process. The door remains open.

Shortly after the open letter was published Ancestral Medicine leadership  made a statement in late October (see below) on our policies in the network as they relate to conflict resolution as we felt this could give a bit more context on how we’re navigating the moment. We acknowledge that we have chosen to not get into the details of the open letter with folks outside the network who have asked and that may feel unsatisfying. As we move toward the more substantive public response in early 2021 we’re discerning how much detail is useful and appropriate to share with those not directly involved (beyond reading the Medium post). If anyone encountering the Medium letter feels it would be helpful in your discernment process, we’re able to connect you with individuals from the four practitioner and trainee cohorts (2016-2020) who are willing to speak from their personal experiences with anyone with questions. To make those connections or with other concerns, message our team at info@ancestralmedicine.org.

Thanks for taking the time with this update, for your patience if you are wishing for further details, and for your interest in matters of integrity, cultural healing, and how we can find ways to come together, ideally with the support of the ancestors and powers, in places where trust has been broken. 

-Daniel

Original statement (October 19, 2020):

Ancestral Medicine is both an online school for ritual arts serving an international audience as well as the steward of an emergent network of professional ritualists of richly varied ancestries, geographies, and life experiences. We are also a full-time staff of five who employ over 40 part-time ritualists and regularly work with a dozen or so additional contractors and service providers. And as with any convergence of human beings passionate about personal and cultural healing, conflicts will arise. When this happens, we aim to hold conflict in generative and resourced ways.

This page provides a window into Ancestral Medicine’s approach to navigating conflict and is also in response to inquiries about a cycle of conflict that began in late 2018 among some members of the first three cohorts of the ancestral healing practitioner training (2016-18). We share these policies with the full understanding that we are learning as we go and continue to incorporate feedback in our process of personal and organizational growth. For reasons also stated below, we will not engage via social media or any other online forum with the specifics of nuanced concerns that call for both a supportive container and for people directly involved to be present in order to allow for good outcomes. We remain open to this direct engagement with any current or previous ancestral healing practitioners or trainees, including through professional mediation. 

Conflict Resolution Policies and Ethics

After a cycle of working with outside professional support, personal reflection among Ancestral Medicine leadership, and inputs solicited from the practitioner and trainee network, the following policies were adopted and shared in March 2020 with all ancestral healing practitioners and trainees through the Ancestral Lineage Healing Practitioner Training Manual. These policies guide how we approach the resolution of any past, present, or future conflict that may arise in connection with any aspect of our service, and they are also informed by Ancestral Medicine’s Core Values.

We have opted to include a larger excerpt (pages 56-60) from the practitioner training manual for the sake of transparency and to provide context on how we hold conflict and collegial ethics in the practitioner and trainee network. We give thanks to our primary external advisor from November 2019 to present, Tovi Scruggs-Hussein, for her ongoing support and wisdom and also to all who pushed and continue to push for the organization to be clear and congruent in the embodiment of our values. We are still listening (info@ancestralmedicine.org), still making improvements, and still committed to showing up for the tough and hopefully healing conversations along the way.

Excerpt from Ancestral Lineage Healing Practitioner Training Manual

Ongoing Involvement and Implications of Network Departure

All trainees and practitioners are strongly encouraged to stay connected with the Ancestral Medicine network after the practitioner training. Benefits include access to free ongoing training that supports the quality and organic evolution of ancestral healing work, participation in a robust international network of ritualist-colleagues, and enjoyment of interpersonal support and opportunities for community. There is no cost for ongoing participation in the practitioner and trainee network and Ancestral Medicine recognizes that not all in the network will be active in their practice of ancestral healing.

Remaining in the Network. This is the default. Practitioners and trainees who remain in the network receive one email a month on offerings such as: free ongoing education, group supervision, quarterly organizational meetings, monthly ancestral healing circles, and any other major updates. Practitioners who complete their certification and who also remain current with the free and modest requirements of ongoing education are welcome to be listed at no cost in the practitioner directory and to post on occasion about their ancestor-related offerings in the Ancestral Medicine Community Forum on Facebook.

Practitioners who fail to stay current with ongoing education requirements will no longer be listed in the directory and are no longer permitted to post about their offerings in the public Facebook forum; however, they are still welcome to remain part of the network and they may address the ongoing education requirement at any time to reactive their listing. Practitioners may also remain a part of the network and opt, for any reason, not to be listed on the website.

Leaving the Network. If practitioners for any reason choose or are asked to leave the Ancestral Medicine practitioner and trainee network, the following will occur: they will be unsubscribed from the practitioner and trainee newsletter, from the collegial discussion space, from access to past and ongoing training resources, and from the closed practitioner group on Facebook. If listed as a practitioner, they will also be removed from the website. They will still receive the regular public newsletter and retain access to the public forum as well as any online course subscriptions they paid for.

If someone leaves the network after completing all certification requirements they can still state that they are a certified practitioner, or more simply practitioner, of this approach to ancestral healing. If someone leaves before completing the training (a.k.a. before getting certified) they are humbly requested to not guide this form of ancestral healing sessions for others as they have not completed the training requirements to do so. The primary disadvantage to leaving the network is the lack of access to ongoing training from Ancestral Medicine Leadership as well as the lack of collegial support from the network.

People who complete certification and then leave the network are still expected to honor the Ancestral Healing Practitioner Code of Ethics and to give basic attribution for the work. Failure to do so will result in revocation of certification by Ancestral Medicine.

In nearly all cases, Ancestral Medicine holds open the option for return to the Ancestral Medicine network although this may at times require some type of generative dialogue or process of repair.

Conflict Resolution

Conflict can be generative, healing, and life-affirming or damaging, retraumatizing, and distracting from the heart of our shared work. When conflicts arise, honorable means to remedy conflict are used by our network. These include the following: 

Introspect. Unless a challenge can be spoken to and remedied in the moment, pausing for introspection and self-regulation supports clear communication and reduces the chances of personal projection.

Discern Between Conflict and Abuse. Conflict often comes with opportunity for learning and growth and is to be expected. Sarah Schulman’s seminal work Conflict is Not Abuse: Overstating Harm, Community Responsibility, and the Duty of Repair details at length the importance of this distinguishing between normative conflict and abuse, and the importance of finding ways to communicate with rather than dehumanize individuals with whom we are experiencing conflict.

Choose Good Allies. If your introspection includes sharing with allies before bringing challenges to the person with whom you are experiencing conflict, be discerning about what makes for a good ally. Favor communication with allies outside the collegial network who can bring neutrality and curiosity rather than loyalty that only encourages escalation or reinforcement of your view without also seeking more full context for the situation.

Welcome Ancestral Support. Before, during, and after conversations about conflict find ways to invite ancestral support and guidance, including for ways your own ancestral experiences may be replicated in the current conflict.

Refrain from Group Communications. Ancestral Medicine Leadership, Teachers, and Staff, practitioners in the network, and trainees actively in the practitioner training do not engage in conflict by group email or by social media but agree instead to communicate directly with the person with whom we are experiencing conflict. An exception may include constructively bringing a concern to someone in Ancestral Medicine Leadership who is not personally involved if direct conversation does not yet feel possible. In this example the pathway of communication is still one-on-one rather than to a group of people who are not directly involved.

If You Speak Up, Show Up. Conflict can be healing; however this requires participation, which does not guarantee personal comfort. Ancestral Medicine maintains that if it’s worth speaking up about, it’s worth showing up for. If you raise a concern, you agree to then show up in some generative capacity for what follows. When needed, this may include participation with the resourcing of trusted allies.

Risk Direct Communication. This may require pushing through tendencies to avoid conflict to say to Ancestral Medicine Leadership, Teachers, or Staff or to someone in the collegial network that you have something you’d like to address. If someone tells you they wish to work something out, unless their request feels deeply unreasonable, try to participate. This assumes the nature of the conflict is not extreme or involving things like physical safety. In those cases, take steps to establish safety then reassess. 

With respect to different communication styles, favoring live interaction can still allow for introduction or resolution of matters by direct email if mutually agreed upon; however, in matters of substantial conflict, Ancestral Medicine will always give those in the network the option for conversation. 

If the conflict is with Ancestral Medicine Leadership, Teachers or Staff and after direct communication there is no agreed-upon resolution, options may include bringing in an agreed-upon outside mediator to further resource the process or a choice to end involvement with Ancestral Medicine and the network.

When Agreements are Not Upheld

Practitioners and trainees may, for whatever reasons, choose not to adhere to organizational agreements. In these cases, Ancestral Medicine Leadership/Staff will try to reach the individual, giving them the benefit of the doubt on communications but persisting for the sake of the matter. If the individual replies and is open to resolving concerns, then proceed with a live conversation if helpful. If the individual chooses to not reciprocate communications or if, after communicating, an agreement is not possible, they will be removed from the directory of practitioners (if certified), unsubscribed from all internal practitioner/trainee resources, and cease to enjoy organizational endorsement for ancestral healing work. 

Ancestral Medicine also reserves the right in rare cases to withdraw organizational endorsement from a practitioner or trainee without a formal process of conflict resolution. Examples of conditions that could warrant this include decisively threatening or violent actions toward clients or others in the network; multiple substantiated reports of non-consensual behavior from a practitioner’s students/clients; or criminal convictions of a nature incompatible with serving as a helping/healing professional. Removal from the practitioner network is a last resort and not our desired outcome in any instance of conflict.

Collegial Expectations

Many of the values that support a healthy collegial network are named in the Ancestral Lineage Healing Practitioner Code of Ethics, the Practitioner Training Agreements and Expectations, and the cultural proficiencies detailed above. Please consider the following as foundational values to cultivate and expectations to uphold and expect when relating with ancestral healing colleagues.

Respect the Power of Speech. As ritualists, perhaps our most primary ritual tool is our voice. Words can bless or curse, feed life or to kill without awareness. Gossip, disparaging speech, and harmful words can poison collegial relationships. Be willing to skillfully and directly interrupt this behavior if other practitioners speak ill. Encourage generative and direct conflict resolution when needed. Without receptive ears, harmful words rarely get traction. Cultivate honest and kind words of praise and healing.

Resolve Conflicts Directly. Unaddressed conflict can erode the spirit of mutual trust and goodwill among colleagues. Making the extra effort to help others to understand their impact and to seek resolution is an act of care for the health of the larger network. See below for conflict resolution guidelines.

Seek to Collaborate and Uplift. In addition to using our speech to bless, encourage, and empower, being a good colleague includes seeking to lift up one another in our practice and ritual work rather than coming from a spirit of competition or scarcity. There is no shortage of healing work or need to go around. Cultivate sympathetic joy and a spirit of abundance and collaboration.

Respect Ancestral Medicine Staff and Policies. Ancestral Medicine is run by imperfect human beings doing their best to anchor something beautiful and worthwhile in the world. If you have a concern with policies, please just speak about this with Ancestral Medicine Leadership and Staff. Honoring agreements supports a healthy organizational culture and a spirit of fairness and goodwill in the network.

Participate in Ongoing Education. Ancestral Medicine provides continuing educational opportunities at no cost for practitioners and trainees. When possible, participation is a way to value the practice of ancestral healing, the specific teachers, the vitality of the collegial network, and practice humility as an ongoing learner.

Honor other Teachers, Systems, and Ritualists. There are many approaches to ancestor-focused ritual, some traditional, some modern, and nearly all of them differ from one another. Being a good colleague includes bringing a spirit of humility and professionalism to our interactions with ritualists with a different orientation to ancestral engagement or to healing more generally. When differences need to be spoken to, do so in ways that are professional and that leave open possibilities for growth and learning.