Braiding Sweetgrass Review by Miranda Mlilo

Image source: Penguin Books

“The moral covenant of reciprocity calls us to honor our responsibilities for all we have been given, for all that we have taken. It’s our turn now, long overdue. Let us hold a giveaway for Mother Earth, spread our blankets out for her and pile them high with gifts of our own making…Gifts of mind, hands, heart, voice, and vision all offered up on behalf of the earth. Whatever our gift, we are called to give it and to dance for the renewal of the world.

In return for the privilege of breath.”

These are the words of Robin Wall Kimmerer, enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, professor, and author of the New York Times best seller, Braiding Sweetgrass. Her wildly popular second book weaves together Indigenous knowledge, history, personal stories, and Western science into a beautiful and poetic prose.

In Braiding Sweetgrass, we are reminded to think of each breath as a privilege. A gift from Mother Earth. We are reminded to give thanks to the planet we are on. We are reminded to look up at the sky, and feel the sun on our face and let the energy of the moon course through our bodies. We are reminded to bask in the beauty of a bird’s serenade as we walk, marvel at the insects as they pollinate flowers and help them bloom, breathe deeply with the trees and thank them for our breath. We are reminded that the landscapes we live on are truly unimaginable, shaped by thousands of years of Indigenous culture and life, and that each ecosystem and niche has evolved perfectly over the course of millions of years. We are reminded that every being on Earth has a role to play and a gift to give.

This book grieves the theft of the culture, land and life of the original inhabitants of this continent, the Native people of Turtle Island, and with it the rise of a Western culture that has thrived on the “illusion of dominance and control”.

With the arrival and rapid growth of greed, selfishness, capitalism, and White supremacy, we watch as those in control take advantage of the Earth, treat Her as a way to increase their own power and strength. It is easy to feel bogged down by the injustices of the world, to see cycles of harm perpetuate. We have watched as marginalized people around the world rise up, only to be shut down again by these same impermeable forces. It is easy to wonder if there is any point in fighting.

However, this book is one of hope and resilience. With every page, Kimmerer challenges the status quo, she offers a way forward, a way “to live as if this is the land that feeds you, as if there are streams from which you drink, that build your body and fill your spirit”. She offers an optimistic future, citing that  “We are the ones our ancestors spoke of, the ones who will bend to the task of putting things back together to rekindle the flames of the sacred fire, to begin the rebirth of a nation”. She speaks of Indigenous resistance, acts of defiance and preservation.

Towards the end of the book, she tells a story of her visit to a natural site that has been completely destroyed by toxic waste. It looked unrecognizable, and desolate beyond repair. However, right in that moment, she bent over and saw a tiny hill of ants, who amidst seas of toxic sludge, were working the soil, healing it grain by grain.

“Time is not linear, time is circular. All that has been will be again” says Kimmerer, and she is right. We will heal the Earth and we will heal ourselves, our relationships. We can’t give up on Mother Earth, because she would never give up on us. For Her, and for our ancestors, we have to have hope.

Miranda is a community organizer, musician and activist living in Washington D.C. As a child of immigrants from Palestine and Zimbabwe, she is passionate about indigenous sovereignty, and racial and environmental justice. She believes that art is a beautiful tool to cultivate joy, and as a means of resistance.

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