“As we give gratitude for the gifts of the land, can we live in such a way that the land can be grateful for us?”
dr Robin Wall Kimmerer poses the question in a written statement, adding an idea that’s central to her work: “Reciprocity is the root of relationship; all flourishing is mutual.”
Kimmerer is a mother, scientist, decorated professor and enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. She’s also the author of two books: Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses and Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants, which rocketed her into widespread acclaim.
Her upcoming visit to Santa Fe won’t be her first, but it is her first to the Institute of American Indian Arts, where she’ll be speaking on Aug. 31. She’ll give a public presentation in the gym at the IAIA Performing Arts and Fitness Center from 6:30-8 pm, followed by a book signing in collaboration with Collected Works Bookstore.
General admission for the Aug. 31 event is sold out—save for a batch of tickets set aside for IAIA students—but the college will livestream Kimmerer’s talk, and those who get their names on the waitlist are invited to watch on a screen in another room at IAIA. You can register to join the waitlist for the in-person event, or watch the stream on the IAIA website or the IAIA Facebook page.
On Sept. 1, Kimmerer will visit the Santa Fe Botanical Garden at Museum Hill for outdoor conversations on the themes in Braiding Sweetgrass. The event runs from 10 am-12 pm, and it includes a morning gathering in the space’s ethnobotanical garden, where Kimmerer and a panel of local practitioners will share the experiences, values and traditional knowledge that inform their relationships with plants, followed by a Q&A . Accessible parking and seating will be available, and program details—including COVID protocol—will be emailed to registered attendees.
There will also be an outdoor story exhibition showingcasing student essays responding to Braiding Sweetgrass, and registered attendees are invited to submit their own stories for inclusion. (Further details and waitlist registration are available here.)
Kimmerer was unavailable for interviews in advance of her visit, but she hopes that her audience will gain “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,” she writes.
“The extent of damage that we have done to the living world is so great, that merely protecting the remnants is inadequate,” Kimmerer writes. “We have to heal the wounds we have inflicted through restoration of land and the cultural values which shape our responsibility for land.”
dr Thomas Antonio, ethnobotany professor at IAIA, teaches Braiding Sweetgrass every semester. He shared a collection of student essays with SFR, responding to the book. They’re full of stories that show a deep resonance between Kimmerer’s work and students’ own experiences with the natural world.
“My students absolutely love the book, as do I,” Antonio says. “As a Ph.D. botanist, she’s able to take that Western scientific education and effortlessly blend it into traditional knowledge—it’s just a thing of beauty.”
Though nearly a decade has passed since Braiding Sweetgrass was published, it’s as relevant as ever, Antonio says. “Some chapters are so difficult to read because there’s such pain in telling of what’s happened to certain areas,” he says, “but it still ends on a theme of healing and of hopefulness.”
Kimmerer’s work took on a special significance for Antonio and his students during the pandemic. They weren’t able to take field trips, but reading Braiding Sweetgrass gave his students a sense of connection with the natural world.
“It was a blessing to have these written words that made you feel you were right there with the plants,” Antonio says. He recalls students telling him that Kimmerer’s lyricism gave them a sense of presence with the natural phenomena she describes.
Kimmerer is slated to meet with IAIA students and faculty on Wednesday before her public talk.
“In engaging with readers and listeners across this very diverse audience, I have sensed a deep longing for connection with the living world,” Kimmerer writes. “There is a desire to know the plants well again, to feel part of the ecological community and to reclaim our role as givers to the land, not just takers. I can feel people longing for kinship with the land that the extractive economies have tried to erase. People are remembering what it might be to have an honorable relationship with land.”
Kimmerer’s visit is sponsored by the Institute of American Indian Arts, the Santa Fe Botanical Garden, Paul Eitner and Denise Roy in association with the Santa Fe Botanical Garden, the Santa Fe Chapter of the Native Plant Society of New Mexico and others.