A smart, subtle overlay of different systems of thought that together teach us to be better citizens of Earth.

BRAIDING SWEETGRASS

INDIGENOUS WISDOM, SCIENTIFIC KNOWLEDGE AND THE TEACHINGS OF PLANTS

Wisdom about the natural world delivered by an able writer who is both Indigenous and an academic scientist.

“This braid is woven from three strands,” writes Kimmerer, an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation: “indigenous ways of knowing, scientific knowledge, and the story of an Anishinabekwe scientist trying to bring them together in service to what matters most.” The author’s 2013 book of essays on Native folkways concerning plants and their roles in human life is reissued here with new illustrations and design, a handsome production that well serves her engaging text, which will be of interest to readers schooled in the work of writers such as Wendell Berry, Leslie Marmon Silko, and Joy Harjo. In Anishinaabe belief, writes Kimmerer, sweetgrass “was the very first to grow on the earth,” a constant reminder of the creator called Skywoman. It holds a sacred role, and it represents an important component of what the author describes as “global ecosystems,” which speak to the possibility of positive interactions between humans and the natural environment, a welcome optimism given all the counterexamples one might produce of our destructive influences. Rethinking that possibility requires going to first principles. As Kimmerer writes, the English word bay is a noun, trapping a natural thing into a static category best reserved for dead things, whereas the Ojibwe word wiikwegamaa, turning the concept into a verb meaning “to be a bay,” “releases the water from bondage and lets it live.” Indigenous knowledge instructs those who seek healthy relations with their surroundings in many ways. Kimmerer writes of a teacher who directs us to walk in such a way “that each step is a greeting to Mother Earth” while the dread monster called the Windigo speaks metaphorically to our need to consume: “The more a Windigo eats, the more ravenous it becomes.”

A smart, subtle overlay of different systems of thought that together teach us to be better citizens of Earth.

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-57131-177-1

Page Count: 456

Publisher: Milkweed

Review Posted Online: July 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2020

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A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

AN INDIGENOUS PEOPLES' HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

Custer died for your sins. And so, this book would seem to suggest, did every other native victim of colonialism.

Inducing guilt in non-native readers would seem to be the guiding idea behind Dunbar-Ortiz’s (Emerita, Ethnic Studies/California State Univ., Hayward; Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War, 2005, etc.) survey, which is hardly a new strategy. Indeed, the author says little that hasn’t been said before, but she packs a trove of ideological assumptions into nearly every page. For one thing, while “Indian” isn’t bad, since “[i]ndigenous individuals and peoples in North America on the whole do not consider ‘Indian’ a slur,” “American” is due to the fact that it’s “blatantly imperialistic.” Just so, indigenous peoples were overwhelmed by a “colonialist settler-state” (the very language broadly applied to Israelis vis-à-vis the Palestinians today) and then “displaced to fragmented reservations and economically decimated”—after, that is, having been forced to live in “concentration camps.” Were he around today, Vine Deloria Jr., the always-indignant champion of bias-puncturing in defense of native history, would disavow such tidily packaged, ready-made, reflexive language. As it is, the readers who are likely to come to this book—undergraduates, mostly, in survey courses—probably won’t question Dunbar-Ortiz’s inaccurate assertion that the military phrase “in country” derives from the military phrase “Indian country” or her insistence that all Spanish people in the New World were “gold-obsessed.” Furthermore, most readers won’t likely know that some Ancestral Pueblo (for whom Dunbar-Ortiz uses the long-abandoned term “Anasazi”) sites show evidence of cannibalism and torture, which in turn points to the inconvenient fact that North America wasn’t entirely an Eden before the arrival of Europe.

A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8070-0040-3

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Beacon

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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A fascinating magic trick of a memoir that illuminates a woman's search for meaning.

WHITE MAGIC

ESSAYS

A Cowlitz woman’s collection of interconnected essays on memory, nostalgia, and introspection, conveyed through personal history, popular culture, and magic.

Washuta begins with an account of her history with magic and witchcraft growing up. "The truth is I'm not a witch, exactly: I'm a person with prayers, a person who believes in spirits and plays with fire,” she writes. The author’s story is also one of personal healing, as she writes candidly about her abuse of alcohol, being misdiagnosed as bipolar, and suffering from PTSD. Across 10 interwoven essays that move through Washuta’s life, she uses popular-culture references—e.g., Fleetwood Mac, Twin Peaks, and the video game “Oregon Trail II”—as guideposts in her own journey of understanding the world and her place in it. Washuta shifts her focus frequently (perhaps too much for some readers), from the history of the Seattle area to an in-depth discussion of horror movies to her search for an anti-drinking educational video she though she saw as a teen. At the same time, she investigates the connections among magic, witchcraft, and her Native heritage. The book breaks from traditional memoir in intriguing ways, including footnotes that speak directly to readers and an essay that begins by focusing on Twin Peaks and then slowly begins to emulate it, moving back and forth through time and showing the changing nature of narrative across shifting time frames. Throughout, Washuta is consistently honest about her own past and opinions, and she is unafraid to directly question readers, demanding engagement with the text. “This book is a narrative,” she writes. “It has an arc. But the tension is not in what happened when I lived it; it’s in what happened when I wrote it. Like I already told you, this is not just a recounted story; I am trying to make something happen and record the process and results.”

A fascinating magic trick of a memoir that illuminates a woman's search for meaning.

Pub Date: April 27, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-951142-39-1

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Tin House

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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