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‘Braiding Sweetgrass’ author Robin Wall Kimmerer on restoring a relationship with the land

David Wilson For the Boston Globe

In her 2013 essay collection “Braiding Sweetgrass,” the botanist and indigenous writer Robin Wall Kimmerer says she tried to reconcile two kinds of knowing. “For the most part, traditional ecological knowledge and indigenous ways of knowing have been rendered invisible in the dominant narrative,” she said. “My work is really trying to bring indigenous ways of knowing into the dialogue on conservation and sustainability.”

For Kimmerer, who is an enrolled member of the Citizens Potawatomi Nation and a professor at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, the book’s metaphor of the braid is important. “I’m very serious about that braid having both traditional knowledge and scientific knowledge, but really being grounded in the knowledge of the land herself,” she said.


“We live in urgent times environmentally and it isn’t just more data that we need, more technology that we need, even more money that we need. What we need is a changing worldview.”

Growing up very rooted to the land, she encountered resistance when pursuing her PhD. “I was told that the kind of questions I asked about plants were not really welcome in the university,” she said. And for years, she added, “I didn’t have the vocabulary of resistance. It silenced me.”

Eventually, though, Kimmerer says, “I grew to a place in my life where I could see, as a scientist, the inadequacy of science alone.”

At a time of climate change, she said, “I can’t help but cling to the notion that it’s not the land that’s broken, it is our relationship to land that’s broken.” She understands the “deep ecological grief” many feel. “Grief is a measure of how much we love. And so I honor that grief,” Kimmerer added. “But then you roll up your sleeves. Out of the love that you have for the world — that’s expressed in that grief — then you get to work, the work of restoration.”


Robin Wall Kimmerer will read at 5:30 p.m. on Monday at Lesley University’s Maran Theater, 34 Mellen St., Cambridge.

Kate Tuttle, a freelance writer and critic, can be reached at