I’d already started reading Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer before the Covid-19 stuff really took off and a pandemic was declared. Once everything started spiraling, Braiding Sweetgrass became my touchstone, my comfort, my tether in this unraveling world.
It was already everything I needed in my life. I needed to know about The Honorable Harvest. I desperately needed to learn about The Words That Come Before All Else and the Haudenosaunee people who speak them. I needed to learn all of this Indigenous Wisdom that has been kept from me. It filled in so many holes in my thinking and imagination. It answered so many questions that have haunted me, partially formed, without the worldview or language to fully form the questions or the rebuttals to things as they’ve been presented to me, things I know to be deeply wrong and damaging to me and everyone else.
Robin Wall Kimmerer “is a mother, scientist, decorated professor, and enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation.” She’s the founder and director of the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment, a group I will be paying real rent to from now on. She knows what she’s talking about, and she writes so beautifully, telling easy-to-read and gripping stories that weave together facts and philosophies that all of us need to (re)learn now more than ever.
Right before my story “Dear Reader” came out in WSQ, I learned that this better world and better community I’d worked so hard to imagine had already existed here, long before my ancestors pulled into shore and contributed to the on-going genocide. I’d also started learning about Indigenous Land Acknowledgements, so the editors of WSQ agreed to run the following up front Author’s Note:
“Dear Reader” was inspired by and written down on Dakota and Ojibwe land. I would like to pay my respects to the Dakota and Ojibwe and their elders past and present. Thank you for your stewardship of this land and for your survivance, which I believe will save us all. Since the writing of this story, I have learned that towns similar to Sunlight have already existed here.
With that newfound knowledge, I started doubling down on learning from Indigenous Peoples, and was very blessed to have Braiding Sweetgrass recommended to me by Cate Denial, one of the coolest and most educated and thoughtful and radical people and historians I’ve ever known.
Having read Braiding Sweetgrass, I now also know that in addition to that vital learning of Indigenous Wisdom from Indigenous Peoples, I have much to learn from all my relatives: the birds and insects and plants and animals that live with me in my community. I’ve always been a huge advocate and share food with animals near me, already don’t call other living beings “it,” and donate to The Nonhuman Rights Project, but Kimmerer taught me that I should have listened to that voice in my head asking me why I don’t know the names of plants, why I don’t know anything about them at all. I am now committed to learning and showing my respect and gratitude and practicing reciprocity more actively than I had been.
Yesterday, I ordered a second copy of Braiding Sweetgrass for my honey, and two other important Indigenous books from Birchbark Books, which is local to me, and worth supporting no matter where you are. They are filling Little Free Libraries across the Twin Cities to do their part while the pandemic shuts everything down and shuts people in. If you don’t already know, Birchbark Books is owned by Louise Erdrich, one of our most important literary authors, period, who is also an an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, a federally recognized tribe of the Anishinaabe. She employs Indigenous People and stocks vital Indigenous Texts as well as any other text you might want.
So please, pick up Braiding Sweetgrass however you can, and read it and love it and find a different way. Find real hope and real actions you can take that will help heal you and your community and our shared world. Don’t give in to despair and paralysis. There are better ways. Braiding Sweetgrass will set you on the right path.