"Braiding Sweetgrass" with Kids
Distortion and erasure of communities of color in curricula has long been a problem in US schools and beyond. The problem is especially egregious with respect to Indigenous Peoples and Nations. Monique Gray Smith is working to change that.
Monique Gray Smith is Cree, Lakota and Scottish. For the past decade, she has been writing books for young people that foreground Indigenous communities and knowledge, including a shared respect for and relationship to all beings. She recently adapted Robin Wall Kimmerer's Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants for young adults.
While Monique's approach is celebratory and empowering, she doesn't shy away from the realities of hard history and ongoing trauma. She brings all that to her Braiding Sweetgrass adaptation and to this Talking Race & Kids conversation as well. We’ve wanted to talk to Monique for a while, and are excited to catch her as she releases this new project.
EmbraceRace: Hello. Hello. Welcome. So glad you're here. This is Talking Race and Kids by Embrace Race. We are excited to be talking to Monique Gray Smith tonight about her adaptation of Braiding Sweetgrass among other things.
We have a colleague who is going to join us as well. Nicol Russell, who has also been a guest on one of our webinars. She's also a facilitator for our Color-Brave Community, which is our early childhood community for parents and educators, caregivers to young children of color. She is supporting our work on a number of fronts. Nicol, do you want to say a quick word to the people?
Nicol Russell: Yes, that's probably the most important. I'm a huge fan of our guest, but also just feeling privileged to be here and honored to be alongside the two of you for this conversation. I'm excited to see so many people engage in the chat, telling us where they're from, who they are, wonderful feeling. I'm feeling the sense of community this evening. So thank you for having me. My pronouns are she, her. I am Kanaka ʻŌiwi or Native Hawaiʻi and Black, and I was born and raised in Hawaiʻi and very much have a Kanaka ʻŌiwi world view and excited to hear Monique talk about folxs' Indigenous world view and other talking points from Braiding Sweetgrass this evening.
EmbraceRace: Yay! And we are excited too. We are joining you from Western Massachusetts, traditional territories of the Nipmuc. And we're excited about this conversation with Monique.
We've been big fans of Monique for a while and her previous work. She seems like the perfect person to adapt Braiding Sweetgrass for kids. So EmbraceRace, is a community of support, as you know, for "raising kids who are thoughtful, informed, and brave about race." And we've been having a lot of conversations lately about "anti-CRT" rhetoric and about how to defend racial learning in school. How to include the whole child, the whole community, dismantle racial hierarchy, expand our circle of concern. And Monique's adapted Braiding Sweetgrass really teaches us that focusing on the whole child and dismantling racial hierarchy and expanding our circle of concern to more and more people is too small still. The consideration of our planet and of all the beings around us isn't separate for Monique or for Robin Wall Kimmerer, but integral to this respect we want to cultivate among the human species. We're excited to talk tonight about the lessons that this worldview, one that centers gratitude for and reciprocity between all beings, offers young people and all of us striving for a more just healed and healing world.
Monique Gray Smith is a proud mom of teenage twins and an award-winning bestselling author. Monique has had eight books come out that cover a broad spectrum of ages, topics, and emotion. Woven into all of Monique's writing, speaking, engagement, and online courses is the teaching that love is medicine. Most recently Monique has come out with a children's picture book called I Hope and the much anticipated young adult adaptation of Braiding Sweetgrass. And we know that there are a lot of fans listening now who have read it, and I'm sure some who haven't.
Monique is Cree, Lakota and Scottish and has been sober and involved in her healing journey for over 30 years. Congratulations. She's well known for her storytelling, her spirit of generosity and her focus on resilience. Monique, it's great, great, great to have you here.
Monique Gray Smith: I'm absolutely thrilled to be here this evening and much gratitude. I've been watching all the places that people are joining us from and my heart is overflowing of the reach and the sense of community is really beautiful. I feel very grateful to be here this evening. Thank you.
EmbraceRace: Well thank you for participating in it. We will start where we'd like to start. You did a lot of work, and not only professional work, you contributed a great deal before either the adaptation of Braiding Sweetgrass. You have already done more work since you were talking about celebrating another book, which we see in the background there that came out recently. You'll go on to do more work.
What attracted you to this project of adapting Braiding Sweetgrass? What is it that we need to know that would be useful for us to know about you to explain why that project had such appeal for you?
Monique Gray Smith: Well, that will take the whole hour.
EmbraceRace: Bring it on, bring it on.
Monique Gray Smith: I want to start by saying this evening, I'm grateful to be joining you from the traditional territories of the Lekwungen/Songhees speaking peoples whose land I've lived on now for almost 30 years, raised my family, and all the books I've written have been on these lands. And so I'm grateful to those who have been the caretakers and the stewards of the land and the water and the air for generations. My traditional name is Mystique Washkigos. What it means in English is "little drum." And I received that name in ceremony and I share it because I think it's part of why I do the work I do. When that name was gifted to me, the elder said, "We give this name because part of the gifts you come into the world with are to remind people of their heartbeat."
And the very first time I read Braiding Sweetgrass was in 2015. And I can remember I read the prologue and I just had to set it down on the bedside table. And probably for two weeks I didn't pick it up again because everything that was in the prologue, it just had to have time to find its rightful place. There was so much just in the prologue and then I devoured it! Part of what landed and part of what woke up in me reading Braiding Sweetgrass was how I was raised. My parents raised my sister and I, we were outside all the time and if we weren't at home, we were out in the bush, whether we were fishing or harvesting wood or picking berries or my dad would be hunting. We were always out. My mom had a huge garden. We always had berries. We were in a reciprocal relationship with the land. They taught us that the land will take care of us, but we must also take care of the land and the water.
My mom was recycling before recycling was even one of the three R's. And she taught my sister and I also to walk through the house and if something's plugged in that you're not using, you unplug it. Because she said, "Even though you're not using it, there's still some electricity being used, which means that's coming from somewhere. So let's just stop that, unless you need to use it." So how I was raised also really brought me to Braiding Sweetgrass. And when I was doing some of my research for the adaptation, one of the things I would do was watch Robin Wall Kimmerer in YouTube videos because I knew there were some new pieces that had to be written. And I was like, I have to be sure I can capture her voice in these pieces. And what I found was a lot of... We spoke similar languages.
So for example, she'll say, when we talk about the gifts we've been blessed with, she says, "And how do you use those gifts to contribute to the wellbeing of the world?" And I've said for years, "How do you use your gifts to contribute to the wellness of the world?" So just slight differences, but our language has been similar. So I feel like we have been somewhat kindred spirits longer, even though I am by no means a botanist, I am not a poet, I am not a wise auntie like she is, but we do have some common threads. I think over time we've had similar paths. And for that, it was I think in some ways an easier fit. And also the teachings I've been raised with. So when the business people were sorting out the contracts about this possibility, I reached out to Robin. I had never met her.
I was like, I'm just going to put on my big girl panties and send her an email because I wanted to have a conversation with her to say, am I a fit? Because I think Braiding Sweetgrass is a sacred text and it needed a fit to do the adaptation. And so I wanted to have a conversation with her as two Indigenous women to say, are we a good fit to move forward with this project? And if not, then we'll stop all these business pieces. But I needed to know that before any of the work began. I also think that my recovery from alcoholism has also brought me to this place, the teachings in my family and in my community about being strength based rather than always focusing on the negative. And that's been part of my recovery is shifting that in my brain from deficit based to strength based.
And when I read Braiding Sweetgrass, that really is how Robin has written Braiding Sweetgrass, is from a strength based perspective of how we hold each other up. So I think those are a few threads around what has brought me to the privilege really of adapting Braiding Sweetgrass to Braiding Sweetgrass for, it says young adults, but I also say for young at heart. Robin, she says Braiding Sweetgrass is an academic text, an academic collection of essays, and there wasn't always an entry point for everyone. My style is if there's pictures, if there's illustrations, if there's pullouts, I engage in a different way than if it's just all text. So that's why I say for young adults and young at heart.
I'm going to share my screen and provide this evening a little opportunity for us to go *sighs* because maybe some of you have had a very full day. You know, where I am it's only 5:30, quarter to six. For some of you it's 8:30, quarter to nine. Hopefully you're in your PJs as you're joining us tonight. And all cozy. But a big part around Braiding Sweetgrass is our reciprocal relationship with the land and the water, with each other and all living beings. And so I wanted to share with us as we start just 60 seconds of sound that allows us to connect to the land, to the water, and to the air and to the stars. So this photograph here is just a block from my house, this forest. And you can see off to the right a little bit of the creek. That creek joins the Salish Sea part of the Pacific Ocean maybe only about four blocks down. And so the first sound you hear is the Salish Sea, the waves. The second sound are the birds in my yard. The third sound is that stream. And then the fourth sound will be a campfire. So just relax and enjoy for these 60 seconds.
Monique Gray Smith: I hope that was of support to you. I put it in partly because I get really nervous before gatherings like this. And so my brain can be flooded with cortisol, that stress hormone. And these sounds just kind of, it's like my brain's just been cleansed a little bit and now there's a little more oxytocin, the love hormone, a little bit more dopamine so I can be present in a different way. And that is part of what now is really woven into Braiding Sweetgrass for Young Adults is the elements of social and emotional learning and literacy really. How do we be in relationship with each other in ways that uphold each other's dignity? And so I wanted to also start this evening because one of the other strands that's all the way through Braiding Sweetgrass and Braiding Sweetgrass for Young Adults is gratitude, the allegiance to gratitude, the importance of gratitude and the Haudenosaunee thanksgiving address.
So this is one of the beautiful illustrations by Nicole Neidhardt. Each chapter now in Braiding Sweetgrass for Young Adults has one of her absolutely beautiful and incredible illustrations. I went to Santa Fe last December and we spent a week figuring out, for each chapter, what will she illustrate, what are the messages we want. So that if somebody's temperament is not to read all the words, but they flip through and an illustration like this, they can unpack so much. But all that we have to be grateful for without having to necessarily pay attention to the English or to the words, but that the illustration resonates with their heart.
And so in Braiding Sweetgrass and in Braiding Sweetgrass for Young Adults, the permission to use the Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving address was given by Onondaga Faith Keeper and Haudenosaunee citizen Oren Lyons. And so I'm going to take us just through this just for a moment, another way to remind us that Braiding Sweetgrass is so much about how do we slow down, how do we connect, how do we offer gratitude?
"So let us bring our minds together as one, as we say, greetings and thanks to each other as people. In these gathered faces, we see that the cycles of life continue.
"Let us bring our minds together as one as we send greetings and thanks to our mother, the earth, for she gives us everything that we need for life.
"Let us bring our minds together as one as we send greetings and thanks to the waters of the world that nurture life for all beings and all the fish life in the water.
"Let us bring our minds together as one as we send greetings and thanks to the vast fields of plant life, the berries, the trees, and the medicine herbs of the world.
"Let us bring our minds together as one as we send greetings and thanks to the edible plants, we harvest from the garden, especially the Three Sisters.
"Let us bring our minds together as one as we send greetings and thanks to the beautiful animal life of the world and all the birds who move and fly about above our heads.
"Let us bring our minds together as one as we send greetings and thanks to the powers we know as the four Winds who purify the air, we breathe and help to bring the change of seasons.
"Let us bring our minds together as one as we send greetings and thanks to our Grandfathers, the Thunder beings who live in the West with their lightning and thundering voices.
"Let us bring our minds together as one as we send greetings and thanks to our oldest brother, the Sun, our eldest Grandmother, the Moon, and all the stars who are spread across the sky like jewelry.
"Let us bring our minds together as one, as we send greetings and thanks to the enlightened Teachers who have come to help throughout the ages.
"Let us bring our minds together as one. As we send greetings and thanks, and we now turn our thoughts to the Creator, or Great Spirit and send greetings and thanks for all the gifts of Creation.
"Now our minds are one."
In the Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving address, sometimes I've heard oration that lasts two hours when people share this. Sometimes I've heard people almost sing it. Nicol , you may know my friend Dr. Man Olan, Aludi Meyer. And she sings so beautifully and she sings Hawai'ian stories and legends that are similar to the Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving address that remind us that we are in reciprocal relationship.
And when we offer gratitude, beauty comes back to us. And it's not why we offer gratitude, but that we are in this reciprocal relationship. So just also this one slide, we have to unlearn hurrying. And so Nicole did this Braided Sweetgrass. And one of the things I did was go through each chapter once we had done the adaptation and pull out some sentences that I felt were poignant, that I felt if somebody was simply folding through the pages, they might come across a Braided Sweetgrass and there might be a sentence or two in there that they just go ah, or it causes them to reflect. There's one that just simply says, why is the world so beautiful?
You can ask a three year old that question and they'll just give you so many answers. And you might ask a 50 year old and they're like, "Well what do you mean the world's beautiful?" Depending on who they are, how they've been raised, what their worldview is, what their life experiences have been, what their life experience is in that moment. And so one of the things I love in Braiding Sweetgrass is how Robin talks about gratitude isn't only when we're doing well. We are in the state of gratitude all the time, even when things are tough, to be grateful for whatever lesson is emerging for us. So I feel like that was a long response to your question.
Why is the world so beautiful? You can ask a three year old that question and they'll just give you so many answers. And you might ask a 50 year old and they're like, 'Well what do you mean the world's beautiful?' Depending on who they are, how they've been raised, what their worldview is, what their life experiences have been, what their life experience is in that moment.
Monique Gray Smith
EmbraceRace: That's beautiful. I feel my shoulders are down now.
Monique Gray Smith: I sometimes ask is your tongue off the roof of your mouth, and people go, "I didn't even know it was up there."
EmbraceRace: It's not supposed to be up there?
Monique Gray Smith: No.
Nicol Russell: Monique, you started to talk about worldview, and in the book both you and Robin Wall Kimmerer used that expression, Indigenous worldview. I'm wondering if you could expand on that and especially as it relates to the Thanksgiving address, how that relates to having an "Indigenous worldview."
Monique Gray Smith: Thank you. So I want to start by saying I'm only one Indigenous person - one Cree woman. So I think if you ask that question to many people, there will be different responses. For me it means, at the center of that worldview, at the center of how I see and live and experience the world is relationships. And part of that is my relationship with myself, knowing what are the gifts I've been blessed with? How do I use those to contribute? What are the areas of my life that I need lots of growth? What are the areas where I want to learn more? But perhaps more meaningful, what are my relationships with other human beings? What is my relationship with the land, with the water that lives near me, with the air, with all the animals? And in my teachings, also the supernatural, those that we might not be able to see or feel necessarily with our eyes, but we can feel their presence.
In my teachings, we have little people and they come sometimes and they play tricks on you. They might take something and hide it away for a week and then bring it out a week later for you. But they remind us that our belongings can sometimes get in the way of our purpose. And when I think about Indigenous worldview, it's about inner circle. It's like the moon right now its full. In 27 days it will be full again. But all through there it keeps changing. That our stories often come full circle. It's why in Braiding Sweetgrass for Young Adults, we started with a graphic novel by Nicole. And the very first lines in that graphic novel, "She fell like a maple seed pirouetting on an autumn breeze."
And then the last lines in the book, "She fell like a maple seed pirouetting on an autumn breeze." Things come full circle. And that's often also how many of our stories are told, that they're not linear. I was actually just in a school in Minnesota and the teacher asked me, "My students have such a hard time with Braiding Sweetgrass because the stories don't have a start place and an end place." It's like, nope, they don't. And that's part of the unlearning for us I think sometimes in this western world. We're used to everything just being given to us. But our stories, when we offer tobacco for a question or something we're curious about, then it'll come to us as a story and then it's our responsibility to glean out of that story, what's for me to learn. So I think those are a few pieces for me, Nicol, around what Indigenous worldview is. I think that it also includes responsibility to care for the land and the water and all living beings, that it isn't just about us as humans on this planet. Thank you.
Nicol Russell: You're welcome. And I appreciate you touching on that and centering the fact that it's one perspective, it's your learned perspective of what that means and the invitation for us to ask others, what does that mean to you? To ask ourselves. And as you're talking, it's putting me in a state of reflection of, what does that mean to me and what I think about the world and people and my relationship between myself and those that are around me, including the Earth and Water and Sky and all of that. So I appreciate you sharing your perspective.
EmbraceRace: It feels like such a great counter also to western cultural arrogance. That's one of the things I find so beautiful in this is just how much we can learn from other beings. We talk a lot in our work about getting rid of racial hierarchy, but getting rid of species hierarchy and understanding that you can actually learn a lot from the things around you would give you a very different disposition towards not only those things in the Earth but each other. For you, it's an old learning. For me it's a new learning that is really very radical and a really helpful way into how do we connect these concerns we have for the Earth and these concerns we have interpersonally with other folks. And I think it's just seeing ourselves as part of nature. It's really helpful. And I also think that for so long, people of color and certainly Indigenous people, have been by western culture called "natural" and "not civilized." I feel like I've resisted the call to embrace being part of nature. This book and this adaptation really opens that door for being less species arrogant and for rejecting that I'm not part of nature idea. I don't know if that makes sense to you all. It's been a very helpful reframing for me. So thank you.
We talk a lot in our work about getting rid of racial hierarchy, but getting rid of species hierarchy and understanding that you can actually learn a lot from the things around you would give you a very different disposition towards not only those things in the Earth but each other... For so long, people of color and certainly Indigenous people, have been by western culture called 'natural' and 'not civilized.' I feel like I've resisted the call to embrace being part of nature. This book and this adaptation really opens that door for being less species arrogant and for rejecting that "I'm not part of nature" idea.
Monique Gray Smith: Because I think when we other something, right, like that tree or the squirrel that runs around or. When we other it, instead of thinking it as a relative, it's easier to harm it than it is if it's a relative. And so in our society that we live in, we are a commodity based society. So those trees are a commodity. Even the squirrel in some ways is a commodity. And I think what Robin Wall Kimmerer has really helped us to have more conversation about is how do we be a gift based society where we see the gifts of each other and we are in a reciprocal relationship in sharing those gifts in a gift economy.
EmbraceRace: I'm reminded of just the whole idea of plant teaching. I'm reminded of a conversation with a doctor, I think it was in Philadelphia, in a hospital. And he said, we, meaning medical providers in hospitals, we do very little to heal people. What we do is try to facilitate the body's own healing processes. We try to make it possible for the human body to do its own work. Which is not often you hear that kind of acknowledgement. You talked a bit about just the difference between the original Braiding Sweetgrass and your adaptation. And I'm wondering, I know I stalk your vlog, so I know that you had to use a third of the original text and allow people to read this one and then go to the bigger text if they want more of it.
EmbraceRace: Why create a version of Braiding Sweetgrass? What do you want to lift up for young people?
Monique Gray Smith: In the adaptation we pull some of the history pieces that Robin talked about, her family's experience at Carlisle Indian Boarding Schools. Some of the other legislations that have caused disparities, that have caused harm, that has caused broken relationships between Indigenous non-Indigenous people. Because in Canada we've been on a journey of truth and reconciliation since the early 2000's. But in the United States, your journey is beginning in a different way. And so for many young people reading, and the not so young, this will be the very first time they've heard about boarding schools, Carlisle, other aspects. So that's a little bit more clear and upfront.
The social and emotional learning aspect is something that I've brought out through. We have reflection statements and questions at different places. Each chapter ends with a call to action. Sometimes those calls to action might be a little more actually having steps to take. And sometimes it's like go for a walk where you live and notice something you haven't noticed before. And then the glossary. So for me, because my brain is not a science brain, even though I'm a psychiatric nurse, there were many words that I was like, I got to look up what this means.
So we put the glossary right beside those words now. I think the elements of kindness, especially this story in here about witch hazel and hazel told from Robin's daughter, Larkin. The Honorable Harvest is another place where it's much more focused. And I've taken what was a really large section and began to chunk it a little bit more. So that also if Braiding Sweetgrass for Young Adults is being used in the classroom, an educator can say, "I just want you to read the two sections on page 161 and 162." So that we don't give these huge chapters to young people to read. Also, because when we give huge chapters to read, some of those small pieces and we just have a little bit to read, it lands in a different way. But if I'm like, oh my gosh, I got to read 22 pages tonight. It doesn't land if I only have to read two pages.
And it's sort of, your beautiful question Nicol around worldview. I think that's part of it, is often in Western world view quantity is really important instead of the quality. Because sometimes we could take one concept and it changes our whole life trajectory. So I think those are a few pieces. There's a lot of focus on being in reciprocal relationships and gifts. It was very hard to choose and I couldn't say, what are we cutting? Because it felt disrespectful. So what I would say is, what are we leaving for the reader when they read the original manuscript?
EmbraceRace: Monique, the first line in your bio that refers to you as a proud mom of teenagers. So this is the population, right? Young adults. Although as we've discussed, you define that very broadly in terms of age.
How have your kids responded to your taking on the project to the adaptation that you came up with. What was their take away?
Monique Gray Smith: Well, I have twins, so they just turned 19, so I only can have that in my bio for about 10 more months that they're teenagers. But they both helped me at different times through the process and they would come in, because I had all these big flip charts in my office with all these stickies. And then when that section was done, I'd pull it down. And so they'd come in, they're like, "Oh, you're making progress, Mama. Oh look. Oh, you had that up there yesterday, are you not going to include that now?" So they were part of the process, not in it but on the periphery for sure. And my son is in Seattle, he's at a baseball program there. And he asked when I came to visit last week, if I'd bring a copy and that's a parental win. It's like, yeah! And my niece, she's 13 and I think she's most excited out of everyone.
EmbraceRace: Our 12 year old picked it up yesterday and I heard her reading it and she ended up writing about it. And I do feel like the pullouts and the short readings and all of the questions. It almost invites you to read it together and read it even as a family just very regularly. Questions like, imagine how less lonely the world would be if we knew and believed that we didn't have to figure everything out by ourselves? very And calling on all of the world around us that we can look to to teach us. And it's just again, so profound that you don't need the profundity in 30 pages. You clearly do have kids when you know that they're like, "I have 30 more pages to read." So I think it's really amazing that you were able to do that with this structure. And I feel like a lot of families could read it together or book clubs or even us. I'm going to suggest it.
Monique Gray Smith: That fills my heart because I know schools will use it. But I think sometimes in families if we come together as four or six or ten, our ability to make big change is huge as a family.
EmbraceRace: I think so.
Monique Gray Smith: Yeah.
Nicol Russell: And it feels like an invitation. That's the word I would use, it's an invitation. Even as you're talking about your sons being part of your process Monique, I'm recalling in my head from the book you were talking about, all flourishing is mutual. That's what it sounds like. The family all being part of this, that potential for flourishing families is there. And it comes across very nicely in the book. Even as you're speaking, it's coming out from you. I keep seeing how folks saying this is so beautiful, feeling that sense of, wow, we can be part of this. We can access this. It feels like I don't have to be a scientist to access this. I don't have to have all the background knowledge. I can enter here and see where it takes me. And that's a wonderful gift that you're giving all of us.
Monique Gray Smith: I appreciate that. Thank you Nicol.
EmbraceRace: So we have a lot of questions from folks both who registered and who are asking now. People are thinking it's so beautiful and just feeling soothed by what you presented and by just the conversation. So thank you. Certainly you have here obviously a really appreciative audience and I'm sure you've met with many people who've read and really loved what you have to say, what the book has to say, what the original Braiding Sweetgrass has to say.
What do you say to people who push back against the ideas, who are less appreciative? How do you handle it?
Monique Gray Smith: I think always with gratitude. Well thank you for your perspective. Help me to understand where that's coming from or how that's come to be for you? Because I think that if we react, it comes back to right at the very beginning when I was talking about cortisol. If I react, their brain's going to be flooded with cortisol and then we're just going to have this mutual reaction. But if we're grateful, and often I honestly am because what they're presenting is an opportunity for me to learn. So, "Thank you for that perspective. Help me to understand it more." And then they soften because they feel heard. And I really am hearing them and want to hear. And then in our dialogue, then there's openings.
But if I just come right back, "What do you mean?" then we aren't going to be in a dialogue. I think that's part of what Braiding Sweetgrass for Young Adults provides for us, are entry ways to have difficult conversations and to do it with gentleness and to do it with kindness. And through those difficult conversations, we might be changed or we might not be. But if we've had a difficult conversation respectfully, that might be the first time for that person to have had a respectful conversation in a long time. And just in there is change. So I think that that's how I'd start, gratitude and curiosity.
EmbraceRace: We do have a bunch of questions about how non-native folks can use Braiding Sweetgrass or incorporate Indigenous practices or wisdom without appropriating the culture or inadvertently overstepping a boundary. That's a tough question.
Monique Gray Smith: It's a tough question. And actually Robin addresses it both in Braiding Sweetgrass and Braiding Sweetgrass for Young Adults around not appropriating. Always saying where the story teaching comes from, who it belongs to, which is, for example, when I talked about the Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving address and the permission to share it that it went back to Oren Lyons. That's one place I think that we can always go.
And to say, especially if you're around the dinner table or in a classroom to say, "I'm on a learning journey with you. I didn't grow up knowing all of this. We're on a journey together." And I think especially in the classroom, that changes everything. Because I think our western system is still designed that the adults in the room are supposed to have all the answers. And we don't. We just don't. And so when we are in a relationship where we are all learning, it changes everything and it makes it a vibrant learning. So I think I'll leave it there.
Nicol Russell: Monique, you talk about and have illustrated this evening, the power of connection to the natural world and what's around us. What are your thoughts about disconnection, about what happens when we are disconnected from nature and the world? Is there a remedy for that disconnection?
Monique Gray Smith: I think there is a remedy for that, and that is to get outside. Especially if you live someplace where there's green, or even at this season, brown or white. But one of the reasons I say that is, remember I showed you that photo of the forest here, that anywhere we go outside, that first inch and a half of the earth's floor, even if we have plants in our class or in our home, when we water them, that smell actually lowers the cortisol in our brain again. It's called humus. It lowers the cortisol in our brain and increases the love hormone. So when we go outside, we naturally begin to develop our in relationship with neurobiology. And so if I'm having a rough day in my house and I'm feeling disconnected, if I go outside even for ten minutes, five minutes, and I come back in, I relate differently.
I think that's an important piece when we look at educating hearts and minds and schools and in workplaces. How much are we getting everybody outside or do we have living walls in the buildings? What do we have that helps to ground us so that we can make really good decisions for ourselves and for the next seven generations? This is, I think a piece that we don't always understand, is that the individual decisions we make, the family decisions we make, the community decisions don't just impact us. They impact the next seven generations. So that's really important that we find our way back to being connected. And for some people I think that's scary because it might mean then they're like, how do I give up my big oil job if now all of a sudden I'm connected? How do I give up my engineering job that designed the new telescope in Hawai'i? So people then are in tough decisions, their values might misalign. And so I think sometimes for people, they choose not to reconnect because then it puts them in a really tough place.
How much are we getting everybody outside or do we have living walls in the buildings? What do we have that helps to ground us so that we can make really good decisions for ourselves and for the next seven generations?... That's really important that we find our way back to being connected... I think sometimes for people, they choose not to reconnect because then it puts them in a really tough place.
Monique Gray Smith
EmbraceRace: There's also just a loss of a connection that was. If you think about feeling unsafe in the outdoors or just being disconnected from previous generations. And just not knowing, not having access. And that's one of the things I love about connecting Indigenous knowing and wisdom to weaving in those stories with the stories of the trauma of the boarding schools and how can Indigenous people can reclaim whatever their connection is? Because we've all been connected if we're not now. So how do we get there? I think that's a big lesson of Braiding Sweetgrass, just connecting the history of people, connecting it to the history of the land. It's really profound.
Monique Gray Smith: And we are all keep learning. Even the other day I had this friend Sarah, her name is Sarah Rude, and we get together to write, and I was talking about, this is the funny thing, I don't even remember what was going on emotionally, but I was out of sorts. And I said, and I have some tobacco I need to harvest, but I don't want to go out there in this space. And she's like, "That's when you need most to go because the tobacco will help to heal you." I'm like, oh, of course. But sometimes the messages and the reminders come from all different places. So I think we are all on journeys and we have to be gentle with ourselves. That's part of, I think about the western world view, is that things have to be perfect. And when we look at nature, there's all kinds of flaws. And in those flaws comes beauty.
EmbraceRace: Monique, you make the point in the book that the disconnection is often most profound for adults, that sometimes children remind us.
How can the book can be used in the classroom? How can the book be used with the younger children, elementary age?
Monique Gray Smith: There are some specific science sections in there that can be used in school and for families that are pretty clear, the examples and the activities that you can do. I think with earlier years, the illustrations are a beautiful way to do that. Or flipping through. We have to unlearn hurrying. You can have conversations with three or four year old's. What do you think that means to unlearn hurrying? And there'll be some of them who'll be like, "Well, this morning, getting out of the house, my mom was asking, where's my socks? Where's your socks? Have you brushed your teeth?" We have these hurrying.
So I think that the illustrations are one way for sure. I think that educators can look at the different chapters and think, what's unfolding in my class right now that maybe one of these stories in here would be an opener for us to have some of those difficult conversations? Whether it's about kindness, whether it's about gratitude, whether it's about respect. Many of these teachings are in here that educators and families can use to engage readers and young people in a different way.
I think even just starting the day by saying, okay, I'm going to flip through today. And the first braid I come to says, the honorable harvest is as much about the relationships as about the materials. So then if you haven't read the Honorable Harvest chapter yet, then you learn. The Honorable Harvest is so full of teachings about how to be in relationship in the world, how to make sure we are respectful and kind. So that's what I would share. Even the little thing if you held up Robin's original manuscript, you would notice that the cover is cream and that the braid of sweet grass is more of a golden color. And so on this one you can see more of the green, the young sweet grass that's just been picked. So even in those two illustrations of the sweetgrass, there's teachings for us.
Nicole chose the purple here because when you read the Honorable Harvest, Robin talks about going to Office Max to see if there's a way to shop that is honorable in a big institution like an office store. And she talks about her favorite pens being purple. And so that's why Nicole put the purple in there. So there's lots of ways that all these intricacies and connections that educators and families can use to delve into the book.
I think that educators can look at the different chapters and think, what's unfolding in my class right now that maybe one of these stories in here would be an opener for us to have some of those difficult conversations? Whether it's about kindness, whether it's about gratitude, whether it's about respect.
Monique Gray Smith
EmbraceRace: That is that so super rich, I loved that chapter. And the graphic, listing the elements of the Honorable Harvest. I wonder if you'd be willing to read that, Monique,
Monique Gray Smith: To read The Honorable Harvest?
Monique Gray Smith: For sure.
EmbraceRace: People know what we're talking about here.
Monique Gray Smith: So again, this is Nicole's illustration for this chapter. So it could be one of the things she's working on for her website is to get these illustrations in PDF that people can purchase them for their class or for their home.
And so the Honorable Harvest have these elements.
Never take the first. So when you're out harvesting medicine, you always leave the first one and trust that there will be more.
That you ask permission. I've been taught, I offer tobacco before we take anything from the earth. People have different teachings and some nations, you gently offer your saliva. Not like we see the athletes offering their saliva, but you gently offer something and you ask permission before you take, and then you listen to the response. I was gathering rose hips a couple weeks ago and I had made my offering and I went to pull one and it was like, I'm like, okay, you're not ready, I'm going to leave you.
Listen for the answer.
Take only what you need or what you're going to give away.
Minimize harm. So when you go out in nature, make sure you bring everything back that you went out with. Use everything you take.
Share, be grateful and reciprocate the gift. Which means when the Earth has cared for you like I harvested potatoes the other day that I make sure that where they all came from, that I put back and offer my gratitude and some love and a little extra fertilizer for next spring.
So that's the Honorable Harvest. And each of those has a story in this book that really helps to teach the message of each of those elements of the honorable harvest.
EmbraceRace: So I know that most people probably don't have the young adult version yet because it just came out. So I hope you go out and get it. And I know many of you have read, or I don't know how many of you have read the original version, but so much to, I think to talk about in your family, to talk about with your students, to learn, to sit back and ponder. We have so many more questions, but we've run out of time, so we're going to have to leave it there.
Thank you, folks. Thank you.
Monique Gray Smith: Have a beautiful evening.
- Braiding Sweetgrass for Young Adults: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants, written by Robin Wall Kimmerer, adapted by Monique Gray Smith, illustrated by Nicole Neidhardt
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