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Braiding Sweetgrass author to speak

The secret to becoming a good steward of the Earth begins with paying attention, said author Robin Wall Kimmerer, a MacArthur Fellow, botany professor and an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation.

“Come to know the ones who sustain you, so that you can sustain them,” said Kimmerer, who wrote the bestselling Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants.

“Inevitably, deep attention brings you to a place of understanding the world as gift, not as commodity,” she said recently. “And this realization incites a desire to give a gift in return. Giving back to the land, entering into reciprocity, is a way of creating relationship with the earth.”

Kimmerer, a SUNY distinguished teaching professor of environmental biology at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, N.Y., will discuss her work on Friday, April 12, at SUNY Cortland. Her talk titled “The Good Harvest” begins at 4:30 p.m. in Corey Union Function Room. It will be followed by a book signing.

“I hope attendees will come away with a renewed sense of the ways that humans can be medicine for the earth, living as if we were ecological citizens who return the gifts of the earth, not just consumers,” Kimmerer said.

The talk continues the campus’ annual yearlong series presented by the university’s Cultural and Intellectual Climate Committee (CICC), an all-campus committee of faculty and staff appointed by the provost. Events are free and open to the public.

Kimmerer’s lecture is also the culminating event of “Harvest Week!” from Monday, April 8, to Friday, April 12 that also features a community group’s sustainability presentation, a film, a lecture and a book discussion related to “Burning Sweetgrass,” one of the sections in her book.

During the 2023-24 academic year, the interdisciplinary series, “Food,” focuses on how sustenance is taken for granted until weather disasters, invasions, wars, supply chain issues or corporate greed place this urgent topic on America’s own dinner table.

One feature of each year’s series is a common read book, with a goal to build community through literature. Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass is available for free through the “Library” tab on MyRedDragon.

Braiding Sweetgrass offers a series of thought-provoking essays in which Kimmerer brings together Indigenous wisdom and practices in Western botany to emphasize and embrace our reciprocity with the natural world.

During the year, students in Sigma Tau Delta, the English honor society, conducted a series of “Braiding Sweetgrass” Book Club readings on the book’s many themes including picking sweetgrass, braiding sweetgrass, and burning sweetgrass. The students also took part in a panel discussion on teaching Braiding Sweetgrass.

The three student organizers of the book club events expressed a deep appreciation for Kimmerer’s work.

“(The book) can connect to different majors, so we discovered avenues of discussion that I hadn’t even considered,” said Matthew Kessler, a graduate adolescence education: English major from Cornwall, N.Y.

Robin Wall Kimmerer (images courtesy of John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation)

“Since starting the book, I’ve learned so much about what the environment means to me as well as others and its style of writing makes for great conversation,” said Harley Meyers, a graduate M.A. in English major from Brooklyn, N.Y. “For me, this book allowed me to open up to new possibilities and helped me form new connections here at Cortland.”

“One of our major ideas we share in our book club is the interweaving of Indigenous wisdom and Western knowledge,” said senior English major Jaclyn Trapani of Bellmore, N.Y. “Kimmerer helps us to recognize the importance of not pitting them against one another or deciding which is more important to teach in the classroom, but instead emphasizing the importance of both together. It challenges our current Western belief system, but not in a way that makes us shy away or become defensive.”

“I think of Indigenous knowledge and Western science both as powerful intellectual traditions, which grow from different worldviews,” observed Kimmerer, who noted that before she wrote Braiding Sweetgrass she had struggled to share her knowledge in the more traditional academic ways.

“But (these worldviews) can both illuminate the nature of the living world and how we might better care for it. They are distinctive, sovereign systems of knowledge which can complement one another.”

Kimmerer, who founded and directs the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment at ESF, was named a 2022 MacArthur Fellow, which is awarded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to talented individuals in a variety of fields who have shown exceptional originality in and dedication to their creative pursuits.

For more information on this year’s common read, contact Abigail Droge, assistant professor of British literature and culture, at 607-753-4331; or this year’s CICC chair  Benjamin Wilson, associate professor and chair of the Economics Department, at 607-753-2436.

For more information, visit the “Food” website or contact Wilson.