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Healing the Wounds of the Earth

This book gives us hope that we can heal the wounds of the Earth.
Peter Linforth, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
This book gives us hope that we can heal the wounds of the Earth.

This is Nicole English coming to you from the Sociology Department at Fort Hays State University for HPPR's Radio Reader's Book Club....

This is a discussion of the book Braiding Sweetgrass:  Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants by Indigenous author and botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer.

Taking this book from a cultural perspective, I am reminded of how storytelling has a long history of teaching cultural concepts and knowledge from one generation to another. As a researcher of culture and cultural practices, I found this book a joy to read. Kimmerer, a member of the Potawatomi nation, gives us insights of how indigenous stories and mythologies can teach us wisdom and practical knowledge about the world and its conservation.

First, Kimmerer begins with explaining her approach to her writing, pointing out that our grammar, our language both reflects and shapes our thinking, and defines our relationships with each other and to the world, and particularly, in her view, to nature and all living things. She points out differences in the language and grammar of English compared to indigenous languages. These differences result in completely opposite views of the world, between these two ethnicities.

Specifically, English tends to objectify and commodify non-privileged and non-human things in nature. In true capitalistic tradition, anything considered non-human is objectified as an "it" and is characterized as being categorically different from what is considered "human" (even other humans of different ethnicities, unfortunately).

Objectifying things makes it much easier to think of them as commodities to be bought, sold, used, or disposed of... at will. Thus, humans are given a privileged position in the world, and nature is considered an objectified, commodified resource to be conquered and plundered.

In contrast, the indigenous worldview sees all forms of life as having intrinsic value in themselves, be it fauna or flora, and that humans are "members" of nature, rather than "conquerors" of nature. This worldview leads to a very different perspective about how to care for the world. This perspective sees the world as more of an ecological collective to be shared and conserved.

Kimmerer next explains how this different worldview leads to "a way of knowing" referred to as Traditional Ecological Knowledge (or TEK). TEK is a scientific and empirical approach to cultural knowledge, rooted in hundreds of years of observations passed down from generation to generation which includes a cultural and spiritual context. With colonization, this indigenous form of knowledge was dismissed out of hand as inferior to Western European knowledge.

In this book, Kimmerer hopes to recapture the knowledge of traditional societies and use it as basis for Ecological Knowledge, going forward, into the future, one based upon sustainability and mutual respect. An approach that does not see the Earth as a commodity to be plundered and destroyed, but rather a shared resource that nurtures us all.

The reason this particular book is special to me is because I do believe that it offers an optimistic probable future. It suggests a pragmatic path forward, and a future perspective that we can all live with. It gives us hope that we can indeed heal the wounds of the Earth that we have inadvertently created.

Again, this is Nicole English from the Sociology Department at Fort Hays State University for the Radio Readers Book Club wishing you happy reading!

Fall Read 2023: Wisdom of the Natural World 2023 Fall ReadHPPR Radio Readers Book Club
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