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'Medicine for the Earth': Robin Wall Kimmerer to discuss relationship between Indigenous wisdom and science

Robin Wall Kimmerer, a distinguished teaching professor and director of the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment at the State University of New York, will deliver the Snider lecture at U of T Mississauga (photo supplied)

Living out of balance with the natural world can have grave ecological consequences, as evidenced by the current climate change crisis. That’s why Robin Wall Kimmerer, a scientist, author and Citizen Potawatomi Nation member, says it’s necessary to complement Western scientific knowledge with traditional Indigenous wisdom.

Kimmerer, who is speaking at the University of Toronto Mississauga’s annual Snider Lecture this evening, will explain how ancient Indigenous knowledge, which has historically been marginalized by or absent from Western scientific inquiry, can help us heal the wounds we have inflicted on the natural world, and re-establish a reciprocal relationship with the land.

The free one-hour event takes place live on YouTube at 7 p.m. EDT.

“I think of Indigenous knowledge and Western science both as powerful intellectual traditions, which grow from different worldviews, but can both illuminate the nature of the living world and how we might better care for it,” says Kimmerer, a distinguished teaching professor of environmental biology and founder and director of the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment at the State University of New York.

“They are distinctive, sovereign systems of knowledge which can complement one another. Our capacity to achieve sustainability and a more positive relations with the natural world is strengthened when we use both.”

In her 2013 book Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants, Kimmerer draws on training as a botanist and her Indigenous heritage to reveal how living things of all types – goldenrod flowers, strawberries, salamanders, algae – offer us important lessons about the interconnectedness of life. A talented storyteller, Kimmerer writes with compassion and graceful prose to spark an emotional connection to our natural world that she hopes will help inspire a greater sense of stewardship for the planet. A New York Times bestseller, the book struck a chord and became the focus of book clubs, classroom lessons and library discussions worldwide.

“I’ve come to understand my writing as an act of reciprocity with the plants and land, a way of returning a gift in return for all they have given me,” says Kimmerer, who is also the author of the 2003 book Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses. “I realized that writing strictly for a scientific audience in peer-reviewed journals was not serving the good of the land – for that I needed to touch hearts as well as minds.”

Through her work as an author, Kimmerer has discovered a growing hunger among people to better understand the natural world and feel a part of the ecological community that has been damaged by extractive industries. At the Snider talk, she will share her insights on how humans might once again develop an honourable relationship with the land.

“I hope participants take away a renewed sense of the ways that humans can be medicine for the Earth, living as if we were ecological citizens, who return the gifts of the Earth,” she says.