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A red-violet image of a brainm, with circuit diagrams to the left and ribbons and stars to the right, surmounted by a semi-opaque white blog containing the words "Health Beyond the Blog"

Health Beyond the Blog: Braiding Sweetgrass

by Jeeya Sharma

The hectic schedules, buzzing phones, and constant message notifications estrange adult Americans from the natural world. This lack of connection to the environment, supplemented with the heavy commercialization of health products, has redefined our vision of health. Whether it be a collection of pills, fad diets, or exercise regimes, health is considered a commodity, and Americans readily buy into it. In the backdrop, however, the environment deteriorates. The continuation of the climate crisis and other extensive environmental exploitations expose a grave error in Western perspectives on health: the serious neglect of environmental determinants of health. Robin Wall Kimmerer challenges current views of health and environmentalism in her book, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants (Milkweed Editions, 2015).

Both a botanist and member of the Potawatomi nation, Kimmerer writes to uncover the intrinsic interconnectedness we share with the environment. She skillfully carries the reader away to the grasslands where sweetgrass grows, using beautiful imagery while telling traditional Indigenous stories. Specifically, the book touches on the interdependence of nature and humanity and the need to foster that relationship.  

Kimmerer argues by restoring our relationship with the Earth, we will not only rejuvenate our own health but also that of future generations. She elaborates on what that restoration looks like by sharing Indigenous perspectives and concepts. Her reflection on Indigenous teachings shows the importance of gratitude and reciprocity in humanity’s relationship with the natural world. Furthermore, she explores Indigenous concepts that establish a set of ethical and sustainable environmental principles to live by. As such, she braids together the threads of ecological knowledge, traditional Indigenous practices, and personal anecdotes to demonstrate the values of our intrinsic deep-rooted connection and owe gratitude to nature. 

Our health cannot be considered in isolation. Instead, it is inseparable from the health of other humans, animals, and the environment. Therefore, by sustaining the health of our environment, we preserve our own. In a world where health has become a commodity, Kimmerer rivals current norms of Western science and medicine with the sustainable and holistic health practices derived from Indigenous cultures.

This National Native American Heritage Month, consider reconnecting with the environment and engaging with a new perspective. Braiding Sweetgrass can be found in most major bookstores near you or online on Amazon and other sites.