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Braiding SweetgrassBraiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teaching of Plants

By Robin Wall Kimmerer

Reviewed by Jeanine Boyers

Braiding Sweetgrass is a botany book that, due to its subject matter, I did not expect to enjoy. Yet, it weaseled its way into my mind and changed my thinking – probably forever.

The author, Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer, is a Potawatomi professor of botany. She melds formal scientific studies, stories, and what she refers to as “indigenous ways of knowing” into a book that is both an observation of the relationship between human and earth and an instructive guide on how to heal that relationship.

She begins the book with a retelling of a Haudenosaunee creation story about Sky Woman who falls to the earth and survives through the help of the animals. As a result, one of the animals, muskrat, loses his life for the greater good. In this story, the reader is first introduced to the idea of reciprocity and our interdependence on all of the beings in nature – including the animals, plants and trees, water, and fungi. Using retold tales, braided with her own stories, experiences, and knowledge, Dr. Kimmerer illustrates interconnectedness, proving her thesis that “all flourishing is mutual” and that one cannot exist without the other.

In Braiding Sweetgrass, Dr. Kimmerer tells the reader that she chose the study of botany over poetry. However, it is difficult to believe that she let go of one thing in pursuit of the other because, despite her chosen study and profession, she is also clearly a poet. Her writing is lyrical, using imagery and metaphor to guide readers into a deep understanding, and, like a poem, leaves the reader to ponder ideas long after they have put the book down. Without preaching or scaremongering, Dr. Kimmerer advances the idea that we must heal our relationship with nature in order to flourish. Her book gives us hope that this is not only possible, but is the natural order of things. Like the teachings of any excellent professor, her lessons invade, sending the student back into the world wanting to be a better human.

Jeanine Boyers

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