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

    Robin Wall Kimmerer views nature as an abundant, gracious being, and Braiding Sweetgrass is a beautiful, eye-opening love letter to Mother Earth. Using the traditional wisdom of the Potawatomi people and the tools of modern science, Kimmerer writes about how we can heal both the land and ourselves by participating in a reciprocal relationship with nature. 

    The Potawatomi Nation and other Native American groups have been subject to displacement and forced assimilation, and they live with a history of oppression. The white colonizers suppressed their language and smothered their native plants with commodity crops. Despite this injustice, Kimmerer proves that the traditions, stories, and spirit of the Potawatomi people live on and that their lifestyles and ways of thinking will be what restores our land. 

    Reciprocity is at the heart of Braiding Sweetgrass, for Kimmerer writes, “all of our flourishing is mutual” (166). We must honor the interconnectedness of nature and recognize that humans are responsible for contributing to and bettering the world. The traditional wiingashk, or sweetgrass, braid tells the story of how mind, body, and spirit are connected and mutually dependent. To follow the way of the sweetgrass would mean that we give thanks to nature’s abundance and use our gifts to nurture the world, thus nurturing ourselves. Kimmerer urges us to learn from the Honorable Harvest, the Thanksgiving Address, and The Tale of the Windigo. These stories and teachings open our minds and hearts to the gifts of nature and teach us how to restore destroyed lands, emulate nature, and lead a sustainable life. 

    Kimmerer writes: “If grief can be a doorway to love, then let us all weep for the world we are breaking apart so we can live it back to wholeness again.” (359). Using indigenous wisdom rooted in love, scientific knowledge rooted in curiosity, and the teachings of plants, we can restore our relationship with nature and give back to the world. 

     Nicole Hatfield 

    Braiding Sweetgrass