This piece was developed during the third Bartimaeus Institute Online (BIO) Study Cohort 2017-2018. These pieces will eventually be published in a Women’s Breviary collection. For more information regarding the BIO Study Cohort go here.
By Kristen Snow
Robin Wall Kimmerer is an acclaimed writer, professor, mother and member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. Her home is in the Oswego River/Finger Lakes watershed, where she has spent many years learning and writing about Sugar Maples (Acer saccharum), Spotted Salamanders (Ambystoma maculata), Cattail Plants (Typha latifolia), and Sweetgrass (wiingaashk, and Hierochloe odorata), to name just a few. She is the founding director of the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment as well as a distinguished professor at the State University of New York at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse. She is a botanist, teacher, counselor, and restorer. A weaver of worlds, Kimmerer pulls strong strands of indigenous wisdom in with a deep appreciation for western sciences and the latin names of plants, teaching and collaborating with people from all nations, countries and backgrounds. She speaks with an awe and adoration for the earth, always acknowledging the relationship we as living beings have. Her view of the planet is familial, embracing the mystery and gift of turtle island. She works hard to weave modern science in with the wisdom she has received from her indigenous ancestors, and present that joining in a digestible way to the often-times disconnected, immature, concrete cultivated, plastic addicted reader of our age.
In her book Braiding Sweetgrass she graciously offers instruction to the offspring of colonizers on how to engage with the land they live on in a respectful and restorative way. She points to the story of Nanabozho, the first man, as the first example of a human learning to be native to his land. Nanabozho was given instructions by the Creator to greet the earth and walk in harmony with it, he fails at times but always returns to these original instructions. She encourages the reader to place this Creation story in present day, taking up the challenge to know the land you have found yourself on. She bravely grapples with the question “Can Americans, as a nation of immigrants, learn to live here as if we were staying?”
Kimmerer is a water protector, using her published works as a way to adeptly lay out the history of her watershed in New York and the torn and complex history of both native peoples, colonizing peoples and the land. Her vision is not just in the present time but sinks down into the ground water to encompass the rivers past, present and future. She gives the trauma of the past respect and gravity, honestly and truthfully telling the story in hopes to revive and inspire a radical care for the earth from anyone who will listen. She is particularly inspiring because she moves through and transcends the righteous rage over the decimation of her land and people, offering a new path of reconciliation for all.
“What do we love too much to lose? And what will we do to protect it?” She asks, one of the many queries she posses to her audience to get them to think about their place and their personal relationship with the world around them. Robin always brings her observations and findings back to core truths of human existence: What we can learn from our plant siblings about gratitude, reciprocity, responsibility and reconciliation. In one example, she offers an alternative ways of living to our capitalist machine that drives us to hoard by pointing to the three sisters, corn, beans and squash as an example of natural, collaborative co-equistance. Simultaneously wise, challenging and wonderfully relateable Robin Wall Kimmerer is a deeply needed voice in our age of Climate catastrophe and rampant disconnection.