Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer’s "Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants," is a beautiful and thoughtful gift to those of us even the least bit curious about understanding the land and living in healthy reciprocity with the environment that cares for us each day. The leaching of ecological resources is not just an action to be compartmentalized, or written off as a study for a different time, group of scientists, or the like. Rather, we each bear a responsibility to gain understanding of the land in which we live and how its beauty is much greater than a blooming tree or manicured lawn. In fact, these "Braiding Sweetgrass" book club questions are intended to help in the idea generation for solutions to problems highlighted in the book, in addition to an analysis of our own relationship with our community and the Earth.
How does one go about exploring their own relationship with nature? How can we have a relationship if we lack thorough understanding, an ability to listen, and ideas to give back to the natural world? Dr. Kimmerer weaves together one of the most rich resources to date in Braiding Sweetgrass, and leaves us with a sense of hope rather than paralyzing fear.
Dr. Kimmerer invites us to view our surroundings through a new lens; perhaps a lens we should have been using all along. Her use of vibrant metaphor captures emotion in such a way that each chapter leaves us feeling ready to roll up our sleeves and reintroduce ourselves to the backyard, apartment garden, or whatever bit of greenspace you have in your area. She challenges us to deconstruct and reconstruct our perceptions of the natural world, our relationships with our communities, and how both are related to one another.
These Braiding Sweetgrass book club questions are intended to be used as discussion points post-reading, and not a guide during the reading itself. The following questions are divided by section and chapter, and can stand independently or as a group. I refrain from including specific quotes in case a reader does take a sneak peak before finishing the book, but I do feel your best journey is one taken page-by-page.
If your book club is about to read "Braiding Sweetgrass" and has limited time for discussion, consider sticking with these ten general questions that are intended to instigate conversation about the book as a whole. Otherwise, consider asking these ten questions in conjunction with the chapter-specific questions for a deeper discussion.
Braiding Sweetgrass: Overview Questions
- What were your thoughts on the structure of the book and the metaphor of sweetgrass’ life cycle?
- What did you think of Robin’s use of movement as metaphor and time?
- Did you note shapes as metaphor throughout the book?
- Was the use of animals as people in various stories an effective use of metaphor?
- How has this book changed your view of the natural world and relationships?
- What about the book resonated the most with you?
- Would you consider re-reading Braiding Sweetgrass? Why or why not?
- Did you Google any concepts or references? If so, which terms or phrases?
- Which were the most and least effective chapters, in your opinion?
- What concepts were the most difficult to grasp, if any?
Section 1: Planting Sweetgrass
- How does the story of Skywoman compare to the other stories of Creation?
- What gifts do you feel you can offer Mother Earth?
- What creates a strong relationship between people and Earth?
The Council of Pecans
- How do you feel community strength relates to our treatment of the environment?
- What are ways we can improve the relationship?
- Did this chapter change your view on the inner workings of forests?
The Gift of Strawberries
- How did this change or reinforce your understanding of gifts and gift-giving?
- Do “offering ceremonies” or rituals exist in your life?
- How do you show gratitude in your daily life; especially to the Earth?
- What do you consider the power of ceremony?
Asters and Goldenrod
- What can benefit from the merging of worlds, like the intersection of Western science and Indigenous teachings?
Learning the Grammar of Animacy
- How has your view of plants changed from reading this chapter? Do you consider them inanimate objects?
- Will the language you use when referencing plants change?
- Do you feel a deeper connection to your local plants now?
Section 2: Tending Sweetgrass
Maple Sugar Moon
- What have you worked hard for, like tapping maples?
- Do any specific plants bring you comfort and connection?
- Do you have any acquaintances similar to Hazel?
- What kind of nostalgia, if any, comes to mind when you hear the quote “Gone, all gone with the wind?”
A Mother's Work
- Does embracing nature/the natural world mean you have a mother’s responsibility to create a home?
- If you embrace the natural world as a whole – from microscopic organisms to fully-fledged mammals, where do you draw the line with sacrificing life for your “greater good?”
- Does anything in your life feel like an almost insurmountable task, similar to the scraping of the pond?
The Consolation of Water Lilies
- Did you consider this a melancholy chapter?
- Do you feel a connection to the Earth as reciprocal as the relationships outlined in this chapter?
Allegiance to Gratitude
- What did you think of the Pledge of Interdependence?
Epiphany in the Beans
- Is it possible that plants have domesticated us?
- What are your thoughts on the assertion of mutual taming between plants and humans?
- Do you think the Earth loves you back?
- Does your perception of food change when you consider how food arrived at your table; specifically, a forced removal vs. garden nurturing?
The Three Sisters
- How many of you have ever grown anything from seed?
- Can anyone relate to the fleeting African violet?
- What are your thoughts concerning indigenous agriculture in contrast to Western agriculture?
Wisgaak Kenomagwen: a Black Ash Basket
- What was the last object you felt a responsibility to use well?
- Do you feel we have created an imbalance with our symbiotic relationship with Earth?
- Did the Depression-era reference hit home with you?
Mishkos Kenomagwen: The Teachings of Grass
- How often do we consider the language, or perceptions, of those with whom we are trying to communicate?
- Did you find the outline structure of the chapter effective? Why or why not?
Maple Nation: A Citizenship Guide
- What are your thoughts regarding the “democracy of species” concept?
- Maples do their fair share for us; how well do we do by them?
Section 3: Picking Sweetgrass
The Honorable Harvest
- What are your thoughts regarding the concepts of:
- Slow food
- Loving something to extinction
- The destruction resulting from convenience
- Do you agree with the idea that killing a “who” evokes a different response from humans than killing an “it?”
In the Footsteps of Nanabozho: Becoming Indigenous to Place
- As immigrants, are we capable of loving the land as if we were indigenous to it?
- Do you feel rooted to any particular place?
- If so, what makes you feel a deeper connection with the land and how did you arrive at that feeling?
- If not, what obstacles do you face in feeling part of your land?
- What were your thoughts surrounding the “Original Instructions?”
- How did the explanation of “circular time” affect your perception of stories, history, and the concept of time in which you are most familiar?
- Does the act of assigning scientific labels halt exploration?
- How can we refrain from interfering with the sacred purpose of another being?
The Sound of Silverbells
- Do you believe in land as a teacher? Why or why not?
- Is it possible to stay quiet long enough to hear/learn?
- If so, how can we apply what we learn to create a reciprocity with the living world?
Sitting in a Circle
- How do you feel about solidity as an illusion?
- What can we offer the environment that supplies us with so much? How do we compensate the plants for what we’ve received?
Burning Cascade Head
- What did you think of the juxtaposition between light and dark?
- What ceremonies are important to you, and serve as an opportunity to channel attention into intention?
- Can you identify any ceremonies in which you participated, that were about the land, rather than family and culture?
Section 4: Braiding Sweetgrass
Putting Down Roots
- Were you familiar with Carlisle, Pennsylvania prior to this chapter?
- What did you think of the concept of the journey of plants relating to the journey of people?
Umbilicaria: The belly Button of the World
- How can species share gifts and achieve mutualism?
- How do we characterize wealth and abundance?
- Do you consider sustainability a diminished standard of living?
Witness to the Rain
- When was the last time you experienced a meditative moment listening to the rain?
- Did you find this chapter poetic? Why or why not?
Section 5: Burning Sweetgrass
- How do you relate to a Windigo villain?
- Are there aspects of a Windigo within each of us?
The Sacred and the Superfund
- What are your first thoughts when you hear the word “environmentalism?”
- What makes you feel helpless?
- What can you do to promote restoration over despair?
- What does land mean to you?
People of Corn, People of Light
- Do you relate more to people of corn or wood?
- How can we create our own stories (or lenses) to view sacred relationships?
- How do we merge data and wisdom?
- Is collateral damage ever acceptable?
- What is the healing power of grief?
Shkitagen: People of the Seventh Fire
- What would you gather along the path towards the future?
- What fire within you has proven to be both good and bad?
- How do we change our economy – or our interaction within the economy – that is destroying the environment?
Epilogue: Returning the Gift
- How do you view generosity?
- What did you think of the perspective regarding the ceremony of life events; in which those who have been provided with the reason for the celebration give gifts to those in attendance?
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the significance of Braiding Sweetgrass?
Braiding Sweetgrass addresses a tapestry of relationships that represent a larger, more significant relationship between humans and the environment we call “home.” Dr. Kimmerer does a fantastic job of shining a spotlight on the intersectionality of traditionally divergent spheres; most specifically, Western scientific methods and Indigenous teachings. Her rich use of metaphor and storytelling make this a nonfiction book that leaves an impression – as well as a desire to reflect upon new perspectives. The ultimate significance of Braiding Sweetgrass is one of introspection; how do we reciprocate the significant gifts from the Earth in a cyclical fashion that promotes sustainability, community, and a sense of belonging? How much do we love the environment that gives of itself despite our misuse of its resources? And, how can we embrace a hopeful, tangible approach to healing the natural world before it’s too late? That is the significance of Dr. Kimmerer’s “Braiding Sweetgrass.”
Is "Braiding Sweetgrass" a best seller?
Yes, “Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants” by Dr. Robin Kimmerer arrived on the New York Times Paperback Best Sellers list on January 31, 2020, six years after its publication. Prior to its arrival on the New York Times Bestseller List, “Braiding Sweetgrass” was on the best seller list of its publisher, Milkweed Editions.
Is Braiding Sweetgrass nonfiction?
Braiding Sweetgrass is a nonfiction work of art by Dr. Robin Kimmerer. Throughout five sections that mirror the important lifecycle of sweetgrass, Dr. Kimmerer unfolds layers of Indigenous wisdom that not only captures the attention of the reader, but also challenges the perspectives of Western thought in a beautiful and passionate way. Through storytelling and metaphor, Braiding Sweetgrass is a nonfiction work that reads as a love letter to the natural world.
What questions would you add to this list? If you're interested in even more Braiding Sweetgrass book club questions, I highly recommend these discussion questions (best reviewed after reading the book) from Longwood Gardens.
And, when your book club gets together, I suggest these Triple Chocolate Chickpea Brownie Bites that are a vegan and more sustainable recipe compared to traditional brownies. Enjoy!