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  • Isha King

Why You Should Read: Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer

Updated: Dec 21, 2020

Our last little book review/recommendation piece went over really well – so we’re at it again!

Welcome back to BADLANDS book club. Last month, we gave you a recommendation that was focused on sustainable/ethical business practice within the fashion industry. This month, we’re zooming out our scope and talking about a book that covers the roots of why trying to live a more sustainable lifestyle matters.

Sustainability philosophy is indigenous philosophy. Period. So much of what we now associate with sustainability (caring about our impact on the planet, having a meaningful relationship with nature) is the very foundation of many indigenous belief systems.

Robin Wall Kimmerer is a botanist, an ecologist, and a Potawatomi woman. She wrote Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants in 2013 in an effort to help readers to "to understand that Indigenous knowledge and Western science are both powerful ways of knowing, and that by using them together we can imagine a more just and joyful relationship with the Earth."(1)

The overarching message of the book is one of reciprocity, gratitude, and compassion. The importance of giving back to our planet is so often lost in our consumerist society. Our lifestyles are built around taking.

As Kimmerer puts it, it’s hard to see anything of nature when it's wrapped up in plastic at the grocery store or is hanging in a shop window – so it takes some effort on our part to make this connection and realize that every time we buy something, we are taking it from the natural world.

What if for everything we took, we gave something back? What if we, in giving back, showed our gratitude for all of the things that we’ve been given by nature?

Additionally, what if we lived our consumerist lives with just a little more compassion for the world around us?

What if we lived our consumerist lives with just a little more compassion for the world around us?

I love this book. If you’re feeling like your connection to sustainable living has dwindled over the course of the pandemic, or if 2020 has made you lose sight of why it’s important to care about these things, Braiding Sweetgrass is exactly the reinvigorating read for you.

It’s not self-help-y or patronizing. As an indigenous American who grew up on the countryside in upstate New York, Kimmerer knows that we must exist in our society as imperfect consumers. But trying to do better where we can is important.

Don't Buy Into It

One of my favourite lessons from this book is Kimmerer’s emphasis on why economic protest is so important. No matter what our personal philosophies are, living in the 21st century means that we live in an Ownership Economy - wherein who we are is defined by what we own.

In an Ownership Economy, where all of our decisions have a monetary value, and where ‘buying’ is something we do so frequently, the most powerful thing that we can do if we don’t agree with something is to not buy into it.

Where you’re able, follow this simple rule: if there is something you view as immoral associated with the things that you buy, stop buying them.

If you are concerned about deforestation, don’t buy mill paper or palm oil products. Buy recycled stationery instead.

If you think that factory farming is cruel and unethical, don’t buy meat. Or try buying less.

Most relevant to all of our BADLANDS readers: If you don’t agree with the exploitative fast fashion process, Don’t. Buy. Into. It. Look for alternatives everywhere you can.

On top of all of the content that make this book worth reading, it’s also the most beautifully written novel around sustainability and ecology that I’ve ever read.

“I wanted to know why we love the world, why the most ordinary scrap of meadow can rock us back on our heels in awe”. Kimmerer writes like a poet.

So, if you’re looking for some serious sustainability wisdom and to get inspired to deepen your connection with the natural world, read (or listen to) this book!

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