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Book Review of Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass

Updated: Jul 19, 2023

A few weeks ago, following the ITMP Indigenous authors spotlight post, we had our very first book review! If you haven’t had a chance to read it yet, you can do so here! This week, I am overjoyed to add onto this growing list. A little while ago, I started reading a book by Robin Wall Kimmerer. She is a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, a widely acclaimed, bestselling author, a very accomplished professor of Environmental Biology, and the founder and director of the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment at the State University of New York (SUNY). The book of hers that I read is Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants. It helped me further transform and reframe how I view my relationship with the earth and land around me, and I wanted to share how much I loved it with all of you! If you would like to read Braiding Sweetgrass, you can find it at your local library or purchase it online from Milkweed Editions. Also, for those of you into podcasts more than reading, this episode aligns pretty well with the book’s overall message!



Title: Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants

Author: Robin Wall Kimmerer

Age range: 15+

Length: 409 pages

Content warnings: colonization, cultural genocide, death, racism, residential schools




Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants is a non-fiction book. In it, Dr. Kimmerer uses her unique life experiences as both a Potawatomi woman and environmental scientist to guide her journey. The book is split up into five sections: Planting Sweetgrass, Tending Sweetgrass, Picking Sweetgrass, Braiding Sweetgrass, and Burning Sweetgrass. Through storytelling, personal narrative, and lots of scientific analysis, she shares how plants and animals are some of the oldest and most important teachers on Turtle Island. Braiding Sweetgrass presents an alternative way to look at the relationship between humans and the environment – a way that is different from what many of us are used to – and perhaps, this is exactly what we need in the world!


From the beginning, I was immediately hooked because it pushed me to think more critically about reciprocal relationships between us and the land. I have always known that we benefit and receive gifts from our environment, but Dr. Kimmerer forced me to ponder beyond this when, in the book, she asked her General Ecology class to name positive interactions between humans and nature. Like the Ecology students, I was also stunned at the question and was unsure about how we could ever positively impact the land, especially with the way society currently runs. However, when she said, “as the land becomes impoverished, so too does the scope of [our] vision,” I felt it start to click, a little bit. This encouraged me to reflect upon the limitations of the “scope” of my “vision” and think about all the ways I could try to broaden my perspective. The book helped a lot with this, especially in the chapter “People of Corn, People of Light,” where Dr. Kimmerer explicitly mentions how stories and oral traditions can aid us in uncovering new ways to tend to the land.


With each chapter I read, and with each vital lesson I learned from Dr. Kimmerer and her relations, I became more and more aware of all the beautiful, important, and extremely necessary ways that Indigenous Peoples have nurtured and given back to the land since time immemorial. This fills me with reverence and hope – reverence for the original stewards and caretakers of Turtle Island, who continue to advocate for the wellbeing of the land, and hope that with the guidance of these stories, we will be able to live in harmony with the land once more. As an end to my review of this wonderful collection of stories, I want to leave you all with one of my favourite lines from the book: “Knowing that you love the earth changes you, activates you to defend and protect and celebrate. But when you feel that the earth loves you in return, that feeling transforms the relationship from a one-way street into a sacred bond.” And with that, I hope we are all able to feel the love of the earth in return, one day.



 

Author: Misha, ITMP Blog Coordinator

Photo Credits: Robin Wall Kimmerer via Milkweed Editions

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