3 Sentence Summary
Braiding Sweetgrass, a 2013 book, explores the relationship between humans and nature. Robin Wall Kimmerer, a botanist, combines indigenous knowledge and Western science to examine the concept of sustainable harvesting and the reciprocal relationship between humans and nature. The book encourages readers to reevaluate their relationship with the earth.
Summary Read Time: Less than 5 minutes
Actual Book Length: 391
First Published in: 2013
Below is the detailed yet quick summary of the book:
The book “Braiding Sweetgrass” begins with a retelling of the Haudenosaunee creation story. In the creation story, a Skywoman is rescued by animals and creates a new world called Turtle Island. The author highlights how this story embodies the indigenous perspective on the relationship between humans and the earth. People are seen as “younger brothers of creation” and must learn from the plants and animals that predate them. However, this world is also a place of generosity. Humans must reciprocate the gifts they receive from the earth by offering gifts in return.
Two Different Worlds
Kimmerer has lived through the conflict of cultures between Native Americans and modern America. She is Potawatomi and her family was affected by the harmful government policies and conditions during the expansion of the United States. Although her grandmother was given citizenship and legal protection as a landowner, Kimmerer spent most of her childhood in upstate New York. There she noticed the cultural differences between the Potawatomi and modern American society. One of the main difference was in their relationship with nature and food.
Kimmerer grew up with the understanding of the gift economy, where gifts are given without expectation of payment. She learned that, for the Potawatomi, it’s customary to show gratitude for these gifts by reciprocating. For example, after berry season ended, they would return to the fields to plant new seedlings. This creates a reciprocal relationship between humans and nature, much like a bond between two people.
However, this practice was not a part of modern American society, as evidenced by Kimmerer’s experience. She was working at a local farm where eating strawberries was prohibited without paying for them.
The Fall of Sweetgrass reflects the history of Native Americans.
Sweetgrass is a sacred herb to the Potawatomi tribe. It is featured prominently in their mythology as the first plant brought to life by Skywoman. Skywoman is the angelic figure who descended from the heavens to spread life across the land. The plant is woven into baskets, which hold spiritual significance as a way to honor Skywoman and bring new life.
However, sweetgrass is becoming increasingly rare due to the invasive European plants and weeds that have taken over its natural habitats. The decline of sweetgrass parallels the forced displacement of native tribes and suppression of their culture and language by European colonists. Reversing this damage requires reevaluating our relationship with nature and learning from indigenous cultures.
Nature and Humanity Bond through Gratitude and Reciprocity
Indigenous cultures provide a valuable lesson in the importance of reciprocity. Paula Gunn, an anthropologist, explains how this cycle of giving and receiving plays out in the lives of women. It begins with the Way of the Daughter, moves to the Way of the Mother, and culminates in the Way of the Teacher. By adopting these attitudes and spreading them into the world, we can build relationships that are based on love and care.
Kimmerer, a conservationist, put this principle into practice when she came across a polluted pond. Over 12 years, she regularly visited the pond, cleaned it of algae, and helped the birds thrive. This kind of caring creates a cycle of benefits – the pond is clean, the birds are healthy, and other bodies of water downstream are also impacted positively. This contrasts with modern practices such as mining non-renewable resources, which have no reciprocal benefits and harm both the planet and the people involved.
Sustainability Requires Harmony with Nature
In the past few decades, people have changed their perspectives on environmental issues, leading to positive outcomes such as increased recycling practices. However, there is still much to be done. The Potawatomi people believe that sustainability is achieved through reciprocity, a concept that the European colonists failed to grasp.
The Native Americans practiced an “honorable harvest,” in which they only took what they needed to survive and left the rest as a sign of gratitude to the land. This method of sustainable farming, however, is not reflected in today’s food and farming policies. They only impose restrictions on actions like fishing non-adult trout, with little to no emphasis on reciprocation.
By embracing the idea of reciprocity, we can rethink our approach to sustainability. Rather than just performing isolated actions like recycling, we can consider ways to give back to the environment. It starts with informing ourselves and others about deforestation and participating in local tree-planting programs. By building a harmonious relationship between humans and nature, we can ensure a sustainable future for all.
Reclaiming Traditional Methods for a Sustainable Future
Kimmerer, a professor of Environmental Biology, combined her firsthand knowledge of Potawatomi traditions with her academic background to offer a unique perspective on the world. This perspective helped her engage her students in her botany class, leading to a more attentive audience.
The Three Sisters is an ancient method of planting corn, beans, and squash together, where each crop benefits the other in its growth. This technique, rooted in the mythological tale of three sisters, has been passed down for generations. It is an example of how traditional methods can help crops thrive without harmful modern practices. In contrast, we often use unsustainable techniques like toxic insecticides. Such technique does not only harm other animals but also affect pollinators like bees. By embracing ancient and sustainable techniques like the Three Sisters, we can create a healthier and more harmonious environment.
Teach Gratitude and Respect to Ensure a Sustainable Future
Climate change is a threat that we all face, and it’s crucial that we take action to address it. One of the most important ways to do this is by teaching the next generation to appreciate and care for the environment. To that end, some schools have started incorporating a “thanksgiving address” into their daily routines, where students show gratitude to Mother Earth for providing them with life’s essentials.
By instilling a sense of gratitude in children, they will be motivated to become active in the fight against global warming. For example, in New England, the threat of climate change is putting the future of maple trees in jeopardy. People can help by raising awareness and supporting political groups that push for higher carbon taxes to encourage businesses to be more environmentally responsible.
The lesson from this is clear: by giving back to the environment today, we can ensure its continued well-being for generations to come.