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Indigenous author offers guidance on being native to place

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ROBIN WALL KIMMERER: My name in my language is Light Shining Through Sky Woman. I'm a Anishinaabe Potawatomi woman, of the Bear Clan, and of the Eagles. And I'm also so glad to be here with you. I also think of myself primarily as a humble student of plants. That's really who I am somebody who is in love with wandered around looki ng at stuff.

LAURA PASKUS: Speaking of that, you write so much about attentiveness, as you've been in New Mexico just for a couple of days. What have you been paying attention to are noticing?

KIMMERER: first of all spring coming, and the plumes of green against the brown and gray land. It just has this real vibrancy. Somebody told me they’re Globe Willows, Navajo willows? And so I've been enchanted by them. And the way that they tell where water is.

PASKUS: What does it mean, as you write, to strive to become native to a place?

KIMMERER: What I mean by that is, how do we belong to a place? How do we live as if our ancestors dust was in this soil? How do we live as if our great grandchildren will live here? That's what I really mean is, is how do we invest in a place and care for that place just as it cares for us. And to me that that becoming native to place that's different than becoming Indigenous to place, but becoming native or even thinking about being like, botanically naturalized to place, to belong in that place. And that comes I think, with the give and take between living there, if you're going to live there, and be gifted with the gifts of that place, that you then return your gifts to that place. And wherever I've lived, that has, for me, helped me feel at home as if I belonged there.

PASKUS: I'm curious, if you have you think that there are ways for people to not in terms of cultural appropriation not in terms of commercialization, but we can share ceremony, how we can all be praying for the benefit of everyone?

KIMMERER: Each in our own individual and culturally determined way, right? That ceremonies are our cultural possessions, their cultural treasures, right, as you're mentioning, that belong within a community, but the things that they are meant to express gratitude for the living world, grief for the living world, hope for renewal, putting life energy, to meet the life energy of the world so that everything flourishes.Those are deeply human. And that's one of the things that we've forgotten as, as people. And oftentimes, I think that's why, one of the reasons that cultural appropriation is both so pervasive, and dangerous in a number of ways, both the cultural damage that it does to the holders of those knowledge, but the fact that for our prayers, for our energy going out into the world, it has to be authentic. It can't be borrowed from somebody, it has to be yours. If you don't know a song, for gratitude for seeds coming up out of the ground, well make one up. That's where they came from. They came from that symbiosis of, of seeds coming out of the soil, people watching feeling that energy that's open to us. We don't take it from somebody else. We create it, we let it flow through us.

You know, some years ago, on this very question came up. I had accepted the invitation to speak at a theological seminary with some trepidation. I'm thinking, “why am I doing this?” But it was mostly curiosity. And, and this very question of how can we or can we express these feelings about the earth without cultural appropriation? And I did not filter my comments I probably should have. But what I said is, wait, you're a cemetery. Isn't this your work? You know, isn't this what you should be doing? If you don't have rituals? For apologies to the animals? Shouldn't you make them and they seem sort of stunned, and but the very next semester, they had a new course in writing Earth liturgy. So it can be done at an institutional level, and at the heart level, as well.

The full interview is available here.