Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer
This is a wonderful book to read in the spring. Robin Wall Kimmerer is a botany professor and member of the Potawatomi Nation. She writes about nature, parenting, gardening, teaching, and appreciating plants.
The Earth gives us so much, we are very lucky. But we overstep and take more and ruin it. She compares us to a bad dinner party guest... imagine inviting someone over and feeding them a huge dinner, but then they also trash your curtains and steal your tableware. wasn't dinner enough?
We should not despair over the environment though, because despair only paralyzes us. Back to the dinner... we should all gather together, roll our up sleeves and do the dishes, isn't the conversation and music great during the cleanup, when we're all standing around drying? That's how we should view Onondaga Lake, a body of water sacred to the Iroquois, but ruined by decades of industrial pollution. It was so bad the chemical factory used to pay the Onondaga kids to pick out mercury and sell it back to them, return a jar and get enough for a movie ticket... like we haven't done enough just destroying their lake, we should poison their children too.
She finds inner peace from gardening, talks about the harmony of growing the "three sisters" together, corn squash and beans, close to each other. Taking grad students out to the middle of nowhere to sleep under trees and give them so much happiness they sing to her. She says science can be full of love and appreciation. Let's embrace what we have.
I talked to Marc about the book and he had interesting perspectives. Shoot this could be a whole other entry... but let me try.
My husband is a Seneca Nation member who studied at Haskell Indian Nations University, then lived on the Navajo reservation for a long time. He uses the word "Indian" very liberally... when he's not using first nation or "indigenous people". His LEAST favorite term is actually "Native American" because he says it implies that American was somehow here already to be native on... "America" is every bit as made up BS as "Indian", stop pretending that they're any different, he says.
He is always happy for a popular book to bring to light some of the atrocities committed against indigenous children. Taken from their families, sent to abusive boarding schools... this happened recently. "Braiding Sweetgrass" discusses it in the author's own family, and uses it as another explanation for why we have lost our connections with the earth and our traditions. The last Indian boarding school closed in 1973, just five years before Marc was born, then he was adopted by an American family because the Indian Child Welfare Act had barely come into effect. Separating indigenous families created gaps between generations, and he is another kid separated, a tribal enrollment number and not much else.
Marc supports any study of Indians in the 21st century, proof that they still exist and we can still make things right and stop treating them terribly. He hates elementary social studies lessons that talk about America doing bad things to indians in the 1700s, and then the story stops. He is not in the past. And if your grandmother was 1/16th Cherokee, he REALLY doesn't not want to hear it from you, unless you have something new to say about how we can improve the lives of Indians today and know something about the activism going on. Everybody's grandmother was part Cherokee, he says, and every time he hears about it he just hears another white person saying "I'm connected to yet another PAST Indian."
So with that said, he eye rolled at some of the "gift economy" notes in the book, he says it is absolutely not true that items sold for money can't be sacred. He said that sounded like white people fantasy, the old stereotype that indians have no systems of ownership that helps us feel less guilty about stealing from them. If a Navajo medicine man drives four hours to your home at your request, you will definitely be paying him. The author implies that capitalism is to blame for a lot of our problems, and Marc might agree, but giving everything away isn't quite right either.
It was a peaceful book to read and discuss with my family and I'd highly recommend it if you're confused or terrified about what's happening with our world. It will get you to a place where you can make small changes in your own little garden, and find some resolution within yourself just by getting your hands dirty and looking around. Appreciate flowers, understand the forests, help the animals, be part of a blessed ecosystem.