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As A Botanist, Robin Wall Kimmerer Has Been Trained To Ask Questions Of Nature With The Tools Of Science As A Member Of The Citizen Potawatomi Nation, She Embraces The Notion That Plants And Animals Are Our Oldest Teachers In Braiding Sweetgrass, Kimmerer Brings These Lenses Of Knowledge Together To Show That The Awakening Of A Wider Ecological Consciousness Requires The Acknowledgment And Celebration Of Our Reciprocal Relationship With The Rest Of The Living World For Only When We Can Hear The Languages Of Other Beings Are We Capable Of Understanding The Generosity Of The Earth, And Learning To Give Our Own Gifts In Return


10 thoughts on “Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants

  1. says:

    What if you were a teacher but had no voice to speak your knowledge What if you had no language at all and yet there was something you needed to say Wouldn t you dance it Wouldn t you act it out Wouldn t your every movement tell the story In time you would be so eloquent that just to gaze upon you would reveal it all And so it is with these silent green lives Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding SweetgrassIn 2007, Yann Martel compiled a reading list for Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper People on Twitter was discussing other books to add to the list to make it diverse Our PM isn t that great with environmental issues or indigenous issues, so this is one book I would recommend this book to him if he s not too busy meeting panda bears.This is by far one of the most important books I ve read this year The author is a scientist but she is also a poet Her writing is absolutely stunning and eloquent Her love for the land, especially the land she grew up on, comes through very clearly in her writing There is acknowledgement that the previously ignored indigenous cultures and knowledge are absolutely essential As much as I focus on indigenous research in my studies, this is the first time I have seen the focus being on science This book was definitely a shout out to indigenous culture and knowledge, knowledge that is often ignored by academia, or seen as wishy washy or not true science My natural inclination was to see relationships, to seek the threads that connect the world, to join instead of divide But science is rigorous in separating the observer from the observed, and the observed from the observer The book clearly states the importance of the land, for so many reasons sustenance, healing, etc While reading this, I thought of how my mother had had asthma as a child but my grandfather, who was very familiar with traditional African medicine which was of course seen as backwards by Western medicine knew which plant medicine to give my mother She doesn t have asthma any My grandfather also helped with my sister s anaemia by boiling guava leaves in water and giving her the liquid to drink this helps to replenish iron levels What sort of knowledge is dying out because people aren t interested in the land any My grandfather passed away and I wonder who has the knowledge of the herb that cured my mother s asthma.The author uses incidents from her personal life, as well as myths, to enrich her insight on nature, plants and the land The book is relatively heavy on the science biology but I think basic high school biology knowledge is enough to understand most of the processes Also included in the book is the sad history of the Natives in North America, the death of language, the near extermination of their culture and what it means to the world as a whole In the settler mind, land was property, real estate, capital or natural resources But to our people, it was everything identity, the connection to our ancestors, the home of our nonhuman kinfolk, our pharmacy, our library, the source of all that sustained us.It belonged to itself it was a gift, not a commodity, so it could never be sold After reading this, I feel compelled to observe nature closely, plant vegetables, look at possible relationships between plants, tap maple trees for syrup, something The most engaging science book I ve ever read and one I d recommend to anyone.


  2. says:

    One of my goals this year was to read non fiction, a goal I believe I accomplished Never thought I would rate my last three non fiction reads 5 stars This was a wonderful, wonderful book It teaches the reader so many things about plants and nature in general Different animals and how the indigenous people learned from watching them and plants, the trees tis is how they learned to survive, when they had little.teaches us about thankfulness, gratitude and how often we take these wonderful things in nature for granted How important traditions are, languages and family How much we can learn from others I am so glad I bought this book, because though I seldom re read I can see myself picking this book up and reading a chapter, pretty much any chapter, and reminding myself of all I have A book I hope never to forget.


  3. says:

    This is an important and a beautiful book We are discussing it here than repeating all my thoughts I post the link.On completion I don t give that many books five stars They have to qualify as amazing The author writes so you understand the value of nature, of the gift that is given to all of us She shows us that a gift is tied with responsibility Only if you understand that you have received a gift do you feel the responsibility to reciprocate She opens our eyes to what has been given us She also shows us how to handle the despair one can so easily feel What is the point I can do nothing She gives us hope, and that is what is necessary so we don t just give up She wonderfully intertwines science with marvelous tales of the indigenous people You can read the book just for these tales You can read the book to learn scientific detail of flora and fauna For example about strawberries, pecans, cattails, salamanders, maples and of course sweetgrass Absolutely fascinating You can read the book for inspiration she is a single mother who has raised her kids alone And what a fantastic job she has done She remains humble To top it all off she writes beautifully Occasionally I felt she was long winded, but her message had to be made clear so we all really understand Her message is SO important to all of us This book is available on Kindle If you try it and you don t like it, you can get your money back if you return it within a week What can you lose I know, I am too pushy but I think this is such an important book.


  4. says:

    I feel I must justify my rating of this book as some of my peers would disagree with me First, I simply did not enjoy the book stylistically While I treasure creative nonfiction essays, I find Kimmerer s language over reaching in its poetic pursuits If this were my only qualm with Braiding Sweetgrass, I would be able to overlook it However, Kimmerer s lengthy prose poetry is coupled with an over generalized critique of American Western Christian culture often conflating all three instead of recognizing the nuances between them Kimmerer understandably favors her native culture, but in her efforts to emphasize its goodness, she often misrepresents the other side For example, in her first chapter, she compares the Skywoman legend with Eve in Eden, claiming that Skywoman is inherently in harmony with nature while Eve is at war with it I found this problematic as she neglects the further complexities of the Eden story the presence of Adam and God for starters Her version of the Christian creation story juxtaposed with the Skywoman tale certainly implies that Western society as in typical Western society, for certainly her people were further west first is at odds with nature due to their foundation myths However, this certainly is not the case it is quite clear that when Moses speaks of subduing the earth, he does not mean to destroy but to cultivate, for it is obvious we require it to survive This is merely one example from the many I found I did give the book two instead of one star as I feel it is important for us to engage with conversations and cultures so radically different from our own, and Kimmerer certainly does well in representing her heritage The book also addresses a significant, though often mocked, topic of conversation the troubling state of our relationship with nature I understand Kimmerer s attempted message, but I find her rhetoric unconvincing due to its repetitiveness and her tendency towards misrepresentation of the West and idealization of her own culture.In all fairness, however, aren t we all prone to this same fault


  5. says:

    If there is one book you would want the President to read this year, what would it be This question was asked of a popular fiction writer who took not a moment s thought before saying, my own of course She is wrong The book the President should read, that all of us who care about the future of the planet should read, is Robin Kimmerer s Braiding Sweetgrass.This is one of the most important books written on the environment since Silent Spring Kimmerer blends her scientific background as an ethno botanist with Potawatomi Tradition Ecological Knowledge in an astonishingly poetic book There are few books that I put down at the end of chapters so that I can take them in and dream around them before going on This is one of them The best of books make me have to get up and walk around One of those I remember is Red on Red, by Craig Womack Kimmerer was told in college that her reason for wanting to be a botanist was aesthetic rather than scientific Turns out it is both I cried when I read this chapter I was told the same thing in the late sixties, that animals never mind plants did not communicate, and had no emotions Unlike Kimmerer, I decided not to continue as a scientist Kimmerer had the courage I did not, and pursued a doctorate in ethno botany She considers her training as a scientist as one of many tools that she can use in understanding the living world When I was a girl, I never felt American, and to me the american flag was just a piece of cloth The first time I saw the flag with the leaf of the Red Maple on the white background, I got so excited this was a flag I could relate to, even rally around I thought, though I didn t have the words for it, that it was the flag of what Kimmerer names as the Maple Nation I was disappointed when I found out it was a flag of a human government, though also interested that Canada would choose that living symbol And this brings me to the most important thing about this book Kimmerer brings the reader into a Native understanding of the world, that there are in fact, Nations that are not human, that all beings are persons.Let me say that again All beings are persons It is the root of our relatedness to the world, our seeing ourselves as not separate, but part of a web of relations that includes the green world, the animal world, the world of streams and lakes and ocean, of clouds and rain, sunlight and starlight, and that our relationship to each of them is, or should be, an intimate, person to person relationship.This does not come from a romantic, but rather from a very pragmatic Native view She takes us through the woods with a class, where she is not the all knowing teacher, but rather the intermediary for the real teacher, the woods, the marsh, the earth She shows us how indigenous systems work in a sustainable way, and what an Honorable Harvest means She approaches wild leeks and asks permission to take some for the dinner she wants to cook for her daughters That is, she acknowledges their personhood, and that it is a gift they are giving in being our food But how do you ask permission What does that mean And how do listen for the answer How do you listen to the Grand Banks when you ask permission to fish Kimmerer says you use both sides of your brain First, analytically, you pay attention Is the population healthy Is it thriving Are there enough to share with us She digs a small clump of leeks and notices that they are weak, the bulbs poorly developed So, even though she wants to make her visiting daughters this meal that would remind them of childhood meals they made together in spring, she puts them back, tucks them back into the earth, and leaves.She doesn t do what many of us would do, that is, take them anyway and complain about how the leeks are bad this year She accepts that the leeks are not thriving, puts them back, leaves with thanks, and the gift of replanting and care giving.As for the right brain, Kimmerer says you must listen with your heart, with your spirit Is there a sense of generosity, or a kind of holding back or reticence This kind of listening is valued as much as the analyticain the Native world Though it is harder to talk about, it is no less real.One of the most interesting, and important things Kimmerer has to say is about becoming indigenous There are so many wannabe Indians out there, as well as people who really do want to have a better relationship with the land, but don t know how.Kimmerer say, no, you can t become indigenous You are immigrants, not from this place Your people have not lived for thousands of years on this land But, she says, you can become naturalized What does that mean She uses the example of Plantain, an English plant that came over with the colonists, and soon was found all over the northeast It is a useful plant that willingly shares its medicine And it blends into the land, does not crowd out indigenous species, unlike Kudzu and other plants that destroy the ecosystems they invade So, my new bumper sticker would read Be Plantain, Not Kudzu.This is such a creative response and challenge to the wannabes Don t dress up in feathers and go to pow wows and invent indian princess great grandmothers Naturalize Learn how to be a person among persons Learn to listen, really listen, which means learning about the Maple Nation and all the other Nations, not romanticizing them as Mother Earth without doing the work of becoming intimate with the land you are, after all, a part of.There is so much in this book, I cannot praise it enough Kimmerer thought she had to choose between science and poetry, but in Braiding Sweetgrass, she shows us that she is both a scientist and a writer with a poet s visiion, and a keeper of Traditional Knowledge There is hope for a sustainable earth on the other side of climate change and the fall of industrial civilization It is possible to replant a forest, to reinvigorate a coastal ecosystem Our stories say that in earliest times, all the beings could talk to each other Kimmerer says, if we listen hard enough, we can still hear enough to be good relations.I say, with the greatest respect, Wlwni, Robin Kimmerer Thank you.


  6. says:

    A fantastic book I cannot praise it enough It is a vitally important read for humanity as we see ourselves, how we see the world, our relation to it and how we need each other While she speaks of greed that chokes the world and ourselves she speaks too of positiveness and what we can do to heal the earth and ourselves More than recycling bins, carpooling and composting in the garden, we need to reassess ourselves as children of the land How important the earth is to us and how important we are to the earth Altho it is easy to see the negative impacts humans have on the planet we are apart of this planet, we are here and we belong here, we help it as it helps us We don t have to have dominion over every living thing, we can live with everything equally as the earth feeds us and we feed the earth with good, pure and healthy things It is possible to live in harmony with the earth as we have done it before for countless generations and we can do it again, but we don t have to become cave men women to do it again We have to find the equal balance and know what price we reap on the earth for progress and for material needs we don t need There is a saying you reap what you sow and currently in huge numbers we are reaping terrible things on our planet, we only have one planet earth, we can t look for anywhere else when we don t look after what we already have But if we sow back to the earth patience, chemical free, harmony, peace, love and beauty we will reap richer rewards than all the money and jewels in this world READ THIS BOOK


  7. says:

    Science is a painfully tight pair of shoes It perceives the family of life to be little than a complex biochemical machine It has created powerful tools for ravaging the planet s ecosystems, creating a hard path for our descendants It gives us knowing, but not caring It s not about wisdom It s about pursuing the wants and needs of humans, with less concern for the than human world.Robin Kimmerer is a biology professor After being trained in the rigid beliefs of science, she heard a Navajo woman talk about the realm of plants from the perspective of indigenous knowledge For that woman, plants were not subjects, but teachers In a flash, Kimmerer realized the shallowness of her scientific training It only provides a pinhole view of reality Science is not enough.Her grandfather was Potawatomi When he was a boy, the government sent him away to the Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, where he was trained to become an English speaking wageworker He forgot his language and culture and drifted away from his people He never felt at home in either world.Kimmerer has worked hard to reconnect with her Native American roots, because traditional indigenous cultures are blessed with a far holistic relationship with the family of life All people on Earth have tribal ancestors who once lived close to the land, but so much has been lost with the passage of centuries Her book, Braiding Sweetgrass, is a collection of stories that focus on living with respect and reverence for the land.She once asked a city lad where his sense of place felt strongest He immediately responded, My car Her book is especially important for the impoverished millions, who have grown up indoors, in a ghoulish netherworld of glowing screens She has a strong and respectful relationship with the land, and she describes it beautifully It s a perspective that is almost absent in our culture, and without it, a long term future for humans is impossible We must remember.While explaining the culture of sharing, respect, and gratitude, she does not conceal her scientist badge So, readers are less tempted to automatically dismiss her stories as daffy rainbows of New Age woo woo Science is not worthless In the centuries of restoration that lie ahead, it can offer some useful ideas, if we keep it on a short leash Nature will play a primary role in healing the land as much as possible it knows what to do The far bigger challenge is dealing with the monsters that inhabit the goop between our ears.In the native world, when a patch of ripe strawberries is discovered, the plants are warmly greeted The people ask permission to take some berries If the response is yes, they take only what they need, never than half of the fruit The plants are thanked for their gift, and the pickers leave an offering of tobacco.Gifts and responsibilities are two sides of the same coin The berry pickers now have an obligation to promote the wellbeing of the strawberry people, by depositing their seeds in good locations not a toilet This is a relationship of reciprocity between berries and people The berry eaters need the plants, and the plants need the berry eaters On the other hand, the relationship between mainstream people and nonrenewable resources is not reciprocal The oil, coal, iron, and other minerals do not need the miners, nor is their wellbeing improved by the mining The planet s atmosphere does not appreciate our toxic offerings of carbon emissions The ecosystem does not enjoy being treated like an open pit mine.Cultures that enjoy a direct and intimate relationship with their ecosystem have far respect for it than those that forage at malls and supermarkets Consumer culture receives enormous gifts from the land, but gives almost none in return Kimmerer s students clearly understand that the relationship between consumers and nature is abusive It s difficult for them to imagine what a healthy relationship would look like Kimmerer lives in the Onondaga Nation At the school, the Haudenosaunee flag blows in the breeze, not the stars and stripes There is no pledge of allegiance to a political system that claims to provide liberty and justice for all Instead, each day begins with the Thanksgiving Address, in which the students express gratitude for all of creation It helps them remember that, everything needed to sustain life is already here We are wealthy.I had one issue with the book Natives from corn growing cultures see corn as sacred Corn was a recent arrival to the region of the eastern U.S Its expansion spurred population growth and conflict We know that hunter gatherers could succeed in achieving genuine sustainability when they lived with the wisdom of voluntary self restraint But environmental history has not documented a culture achieving sustainability via intensive agriculture.Potawatomi legends describe a dangerous spirit called the Windigo It wanders across the land in the lean months of winter It is always hungry, and never stops hunting It s a selfish spirit that is obsessed with its own survival, by any means necessary The Windigo is notorious for having an insatiable hunger The moral of the story is to share, to take care of one another Don t be a greedy butthead.Much to the horror of the natives, the colonists imported a diabolical spirit of incredible self destructive overindulgence Super Windigo In white society, mastering the madness of insatiable consumption was seen as an admirable mark of success Kimmerer winces We spend our beautiful, utterly singular lives on making money, to buy things that feed but never satisfy It is the Windigo way that tricks us into believing that belongings will fill our hunger, when it is belonging that we crave After a lifetime of shopping and discarding, we don t return our bodies to nature The dead are placed in heavy caskets and buried deep in the ground, where nature will struggle for centuries to retrieve the nutrients I ve always hoped that my corpse would be eaten by mountain lions in a wild location, an offering to an ecosystem upon which I have lived far too hard.From other books, I have learned about cultures that did something like this Carl Jung noted that the Maasai tribe did not bury their dead Corpses were left outdoors for the hyenas to eat John Gunther wrote that the Bakutu people of the Congo recycled corpses by laying them on a termite hill In sky burial, corpses are fed to the vultures This is done in Tibet, and in Zoroastrian communities in India Evan Pritchard noted that the Western Algonquin people also practiced it.Over the years, Kimmerer has heard the Thanksgiving Address recited countless times It is so inspiring to listen to people express gratitude for all of creation She longs for the day when we can hear the land give thanks for the people in return So do I.Questions for a Resilient Future is a 17 minute talk given by Kimmerer.Returning the Gift is a brief essay.


  8. says:

    This essay collection is a long meditation on the natural world and our place in it The author melds her training as a botanist with the knowledge of plants gained through her Native American upbringing to create a holistic view of the plant kingdom This is a statement on the hubris of western thought and how it often fails to recognize indigenous wisdom Although the collection is long and sometimes repetitive, what it has to say is valuable to our current understanding and our future under climate change.


  9. says:

    One of the most beautiful books I ve ever read I don t know what else to say It left me at a loss for words Read it Just read it.


  10. says:

    This book contains one exceptional essay that I would highly recommend to everyone, The Sacred and the Superfund As for the rest of it, although I love the author s core message that we need to find a relationship to the land based on reciprocity and gratitude, rather than exploitation I have to admit, I found the book a bit of a struggle to get through The author has a flowery, repetitive, overly polished writing style that simply did not appeal to me I would read a couple of essays, find my mind wandering, and then put the book down for a couple of weeks Then I would find myself thinking about something the author said, decide to give the book another try, read a couple of essays, etc Clearly I am in the minority here, as this book has some crazy high ratings overall.