Braiding Sweetgrass

“Children hearing the Skywoman story from birth know in their bones the responsibility that flows between humans and the earth.”

Braiding Sweetgrass consists of 31 story-essays which combine scientific and cultural understanding for a holistic, Indigenous view of the relationship between humans and the world. The book is organized in five sections named after the stages of tending sweetgrass. In “Planting Sweetgrass,” (6 story-essays) Kimmerer lays out how to develop a care for the earth. “Tending Sweetgrass” (5 story-essays) delves into what the earth gives to humans. “Picking Sweetgrass” (6 story-essays) narrates human responsibilities towards the nonhuman life. “Braiding Sweetgrass” (8 story-essays) deals with attending to earth’s processes through socio-cultural practices. “Burning Sweetgrass (6 story-essays), the most urgent section, confronts ecocidal foundations of the current industrial civilization. The book closes with an epilogue reaffirming the Indigenous values of generosity, gratitude, and reciprocity as the necessary pillars for “the renewal of the world” (384).

Written by a Potawatomi botanist as a “braid of stories, … indigenous ways of knowing, [and] scientific knowledge” (x), Braiding Sweetgrass offers a window into core precepts of the Indigenous or Kinship Worldview: all focused on how humanity can maintain a respectful relationship with the non-human world. For climate literacy education, chapters can be combined into thematic clusters (for example on plants, soil, permaculture, food sovereignty, non-human personhood, Mother Earth, Indigenous science, Indigenous environmental practices, animism, ecocentrism, Native American origin story, web of life or Earth’s aliveness). They can also serve as stand-alone introductions to specific Indigenous concepts that are central to climate literacy learning. These include human-animal kinship, Honorable Harvest, animacy, ecolinguistics, the sacred, gift economy, climate emotions, place-based indigeneity, regeneration, ecological restoration as well as concepts describing destructive ideas and processes such as Windigo economy, human exceptionalism, anthropocentrism, consumerism and more. For example, in “Skywoman Falling” Kimmerer asks how different civilizations’ origin stories (see myth, stories we-live-by, intersubjective imagined orders) determine their relationship with the natural world. in “The Grammar of Animacy” she explores how language affects our views on non-human personhood as well as the Earth’s aliveness by contrasting English and Potawatomi. Potawatomi’s focus on verbs personifies the world in a way that English’s focus on nouns does not capture. In both “The Sound of Silverbells” and “Sitting in a Circle” Kimmerer tells stories of how nature immersion allows her students to come to appreciate things about the planet that they did not before. Tying all chapters is the notion that we can only understand the world by engaging in reciprocity, the act of giving and receiving gifts. The book offers great ways to discuss both the practical means by which we can come to view the world beyond the lens of the Anthropocene and the meaning that comes with what shift in worldview.

©2024 ClimateLit (Sean Haase Oliva)

Check out the publisher’s website for a Braiding Sweetgrass reader’s guide:

Publisher: Milkweed Editions, 2013

Pages: 386

ISBN: 978-1-57131-356-0

Audience: Rebels (14-older)

Format: Nonfiction

Topics: Animacy, Animism, Anthropocene, Anthropocentrism, Climate Emotions, Climate Literacy, Consumerism, Earth's Aliveness, Ecocentrism, Ecolinguistics, Ecological Restoration, Food Sovereignty, Gift Economy, Honorable Harvest, Human Exceptionalism, Indigenous Environmental Practices, Indigenous Science, Indigenous Worldview, Intersubjective Imagined Orders, Kinship Worldview, Kinship with Animals, Mother Earth, Myth, Nature Immersion, Non-Human Personhood, Origin Stories, Permaculture, Place-Based Knowledge, Plants, Regeneration, Soil, Stories We Live By, The Sacred, Web of Life, Windigo Economy