“Gratitude is a radical act.” Dr. Robin Kimmerer

Boozhoo. I’m wiping tears from my eyes after having finished watching Dr. Robin Wall-Kimmerer’s presentation at the Bioneers conference last fall. Mishkos Kenomagwen: The Teachings of Grass I have deep admiration for her work and her spirit. In her book, “Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants“, I found a kindred spirit. I cherish and honor that book for the many gifts it brings me: the affirmation of my values and inner knowings; the inspiration to keep speaking my ancestral language; the motivation to keep talking about a land ethic, even when my thoughts and words are dry and wilted. (Dry and wilted sometimes makes good kindling, but knowing when to set it afire takes wisdom).

When Dr. Kimmerer talks about the ‘honorable harvest’ in her presentation, I’m reminded of the values that I have lived by for as long as I can remember. I’m not sure if they were given to me by my elders, or if I came to the Earth with this wisdom as part of my DNA. It may be a little of both. In her presentation, she talks about the ethical protocols of an ‘honorable harvest’ and I see how these protocols can be applied in human interactions as well as those interactions with our ‘more-than-human’ relatives.

The elements of the protocol are: never take the first one, ask permission, listen for the answer, take only what you need, minimize harm, use everything that you take, be grateful, share what you’ve taken and reciprocate the gift.

I am thinking of how I am going to reinforce this protocol in my everyday interactions. How will that look, in reality, when I am speaking with a friend? Most of the protocols are easily transferred, but what will it mean to ‘not take the first one’? In Dr. Kimmerer’s example, you never take the first plant that you see. The wisdom behind that is that you always leave something in place. That means you also don’t take the last plant. I have some work to do here in how to apply this principle in my human interactions.

Dr. Kimmerer states “It’s not the land which is broken, but our relationship to the land.” I am convinced that we must do all we can to re-create a healthy relationship with our human relatives AND our more-than-human relatives. Further, I am convinced that we CAN re-create this relationship. I believe that the right people are here, in this moment in time to do this work. Along with the wisdom traditions that Walter Echo-Hawk described in his recent presentation, this “honorable harvest” protocol is one of the most powerful tools I have yet to find.

“Gratitude is a radical act”, she says, in this age where the line between defining what is a ‘need’ and what is a ‘want’ drives our consumerism. This makes me think of the sacred land of the San Carlos Apache in Oak Flats. There are too many examples where blind consumerism has convinced us that we ‘need’ to take everything, and that we can’t get what we ‘need’ without making a huge mess. Oak Flats is especially troubling to my heart. The government-to-government relationship and honorable agreements between nations to protect that land as sacred has completely been usurped. By chicanery and deception. It causes me grief on many levels. Bitterness seeps into my heart.

I recently unlocked a piece of inner wisdom that I hope I can train myself to use more often. Here’s the wisdom: when these situations arise (chicanery of Oak Flats), it is more powerful to see with kind eyes than a bitter heart, if the goal is for a correction to be made. Kind eyes that are fully open, mind you. We can be angry and upset about the situation, and we should allow those emotions to fully unfold. However, before we take up a fight, we must switch to kindness and settle our hearts into our innate wisdom about what is the honorable and ethical resolution. It is possible to be fierce and kind at the same time. We know what the honorable and ethical resolution is. It lives in us. Even those who are practicing chicanery.

I believe that learning to be kind AND fierce represents a critical paradigm shift in how we approach restoring justice in our communities. We are living in a time where we have a long history behind us of good works, done by good people, but the outcomes are not as great as we had expected. So, if we take a critical look at what has been done, in relation to where we are in this moment in time, what can we learn in order to effect greater outcomes? This is not a rhetorical question, and I don’t believe that one person has THE answer.

In order for us to answer these types of questions, there’s something I believe we need to contemplate further. We must not allow ourselves get side-tracked into making judgments or naming a single thing as the cause of all our grief. It’s not enough to point to greed as the root cause and stop there.  Yes, greed is involved, and it’s a powerful human component contributing to many of our griefs. But let us change our minds about calling greed the sole source. Let us also change our minds about how to overcome greed. Greed is but one of the components of the human psyche, my husband reminds me. When enough people are able to overcome their own greed, we will see our way to a more equitable experience. I’m going to quote one of my favorite tv shows now. #nerd “When everything seems to be lacking in integrity, you find it in yourself.” Henry, from Madam Secretary  We can’t afford to be disillusioned and bitter.

I encourage you to watch Dr. Kimmerer’s presentation, which is only 21 minutes long and a worthy investment of your time. She beautifully details each protocol and what that means. When you watch, think about how this protocol could be applied to interactions with your family, your friends, your colleagues. When it becomes part of our everyday interactions, I believe we will begin to see the world through a different lens. We will have begun to correct our mistakes and re-store our relationships.

I’m grateful for much. Not just things, not just people. I’m grateful for my breath, for my blood. I’m grateful for the wisdom that comes to me during my meditative drives in a car that consumes fossil fuel. I’m grateful for the horsetail growing in my yard, for I see it as a medicine. And the fire weed, I am grateful for the bunnies who have been constantly showing up for me over the last few weeks. I’m grateful for the joy and the teaching they bring. For me, gratitude is a radical act, but I also see it as the master key. Which I guess is what Dr. Kimmerer was pointing to, after all.


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Twylia (the 'i' is silent)

~ I am Anishinaabe-kwe with Scottish heritage and Sami DNA. I speak on the behalf of no one but myself. My ancestors inform and guide me. My voice is but one of many who are calling for change. We have much work to do to create a good space for the real human beings who are waiting to be born.

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