Thursday, 14 May 2020

Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer
First published in 2013 by Milkweed Editions. Republished by Penguin on the 23rd April 2020.

Included in my Vegan Bookshop

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As a botanist, Robin Wall Kimmerer has been trained to ask questions of nature with the tools of science. As a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, she embraces the notion that plants and animals are our oldest teachers. In Braiding Sweetgrass, Kimmerer brings these lenses of knowledge together to show that the awakening of a wider ecological consciousness requires the acknowledgment and celebration of our reciprocal relationship with the rest of the living world. For only when we can hear the languages of other beings are we capable of understanding the generosity of the earth, and learning to give our own gifts in return.

I missed out on the opportunity to borrow this book, highly recommended by a beautiful friend, in its original publication a couple of years ago so almost-literally leapt at the chance to review a NetGalley copy of the new Penguin publication. I'm so glad that I did! Robin Wall Kimmerer's life philosophies and the way in which she looks to plant wisdom for answers to human social and environmental problems are exactly what we need to be exploring right now, especially as people want new lifestyle choices in the wake of the epidemic. I began reading Braiding Sweetgrass wondering if this might be too 'hippy' a book for me to really get into. Within a hundred pages I was totally engrossed in every word Kimmerer wrote and frequently found myself nodding in enthusiastic agreement with her.

Kimmerer discusses ancient Native American ideas and practices, showing how the ideas behind them result in a completely different mindset to that of contemporary capitalist Western culture. I loved how she explains the influence of such basic concepts as our origin myths and was reminded strongly of Nesrine Malik's arguments in We Need New Stories. For the Potawatomi tribe, human life on Earth began with a woman whose fall from the sky was cushioned by geese catching her in their soft feathers and with all the animals helping her to create a home for herself. The Christian story begins in anger with a woman being evicted from paradise to cope as best she can in a lesser place. Our language also makes a huge difference to our worldview. In English, it is acceptable to refer to any nonhuman as 'it', ie. as a thing. For Native Americans, all animals have person status as do plants, rocks, water flows. It's much harder emotionally to mistreat someOne than someThing.

The combination of Kimmerer's philosophical approach together with her scientific knowledge and engaging, chatty tone made Braiding Sweetgrass an amazing read for me. While I was eager to keep reading what Kimmerer has to say, I also found myself frequently setting the book aside to appreciate a beautiful concept or to consider how I could apply a suggestion to my own lifestyle. I think it is generally accepted that humans have to make drastic changes to how we live and consume resources or we soon won't have a planet that's capable of supporting us all. I would highly recommend Braiding Sweetgrass as the perfect guide.

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  1. This is not a book that would typically catch my eye but I appreciate your thoughtful review, and have to admit I am interested in it!

    1. I think you would like Braiding Sweetgrass. It's written as part-memoir, part-science and I loved gow Robin draws disparate subjects together to reinforce her arguments

  2. I have to admit I have not read that much Native literature. I have read some Australian but basically no Native American literature. It sounds like this one was fantastic. Insightful but also a good combination of philosophy and science.

    1. I think this might be my first Native American authored book. I have others on my TBR, but think previous books I remember that included Native American ideas were actually written by other people.