Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants.
Every time I sat down with Braiding Sweetgrass I could feel the excitement. What new wisdom, perspectives or teachings might emerge from Robin Wall Kimmerer’s spiritually uplifting work?
Weaving experiences of her life as a mom and scholar with oral histories, botany, and words from wise people striving to live their cultures, Kimmerer has gifted us with wondrous insight into how our lives are interwoven with those of plants: “We cannot live without them but it’s also true that they cannot live without us.” Furthermore, if your criteria are generosity, nurturance, and humility, plants are most certainly the better species.
Science is slowly catching up to only a fraction of Indigenous knowledge as evidenced by what Kimmerer shares from her Potawotami culture. Small practices we are learning in our decolonization processes have incredibly far reaching consequences. For example, the idea that consistently picking sweetgrass in respectful ways promotes its growth might be easily dismissed as unsubstantiated folk knowledge if not for botanists like Kimmerer and one of her students who took up the concerns of community members noting the decline of this crucial medicine. The teaching was validated despite the skepticism and cynicism of scholars. The surprising(?) conclusion: the existence, regeneration, and spread of sweetgrass not only depends on sustainable practices but on our consistent picking of it. There is truth to the warnings we have heard from Elders. If we stop using our medicines they will abandon us.
With the bifocalism of Indigenous and scientific frameworks, Kimmerer helps us see with new eyes that plants have a level of consciousness, enjoy more senses than we do, and communicate with us and each other at a level that colonial mindset would never have believed.
I particularly appreciated Kimmerer’s exploration of the gift economy through examining our relationship with plants. While radical economic theorists posit ways we can transition into a gift economy, Kimmerer reminds us it already exists. It is not something we two-leggeds need to create for ourselves. The economy of the Earth has existed since time immemorial, and we are inherently a part of it. All we have to do is recognize, respect, and be thankful for its existence to reap the abundance that New Agers take money to “teach” us about (the irony of taking money to educate about gifting seems lost on them). Sorry, but plants have been teaching for far longer and with much more wisdom and generosity. So have our Elders, storytellers, and artists—Kimmerer among the wisest of them.
Braiding Sweetgrass contains too many marvelous gems of wisdom to do justice to in a small review but to close let me leave you with a simple yet profound notion that is transformational for me every time I reconnect with it: “… all gifts are multiplied in relationship”. What more can I say? If you want your mind blown and your spirit expanded check out Kimmerer’s book.