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Author Robin Wall Kimmerer asks, “What does the earth ask of us?”

Published March 08, 2023

What does best-selling author Robin Wall Kimmerer, Ph.D., wish she knew as a college student?

“What I didn’t know then was that my voice mattered — that I could change anything,” she said at a session for Nazareth students on March 7, 2023, before giving a public talk on campus.

Wall Kimmerer was a quiet college student, knew she thought differently from other people, and believed people didn’t want to hear her ideas. “What a silly thing to think.” She eventually put her ideas into books and shares them in the college classes she teaches. “And you know what? It’s important.”

She continued: “What’s in you is really important, too. But nobody will ever know that without the courage to speak up about it. I wish … I had more courage earlier.”

Wall Kimmerer — winner of a so-called genius grant, a 2022 MacArthur Fellow — is a changemaker through her writing, speaking, and teaching. Her book, Braiding Sweetgrass, explores reciprocal relationships between people and nature, with a focus on Indigenous wisdom, scientific knowledge, and how people can learn from the plants around us. Wall Kimmerer is a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation.

She is also an environmental biology scholar. She holds the title of American distinguished teaching professor of environmental and forest biology, and she is the director of the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, New York.

As she speaks around the country, Wall Kimmerer sees that people are longing for information about what to do and how they can make a difference for the future of the planet. They ask her: “If I love the world this much, if I want to shift my way of being to one that honors our life here together, rather than destroys it, what should I do?”

Her answer: “I can’t tell you what to do, because we each have different capacities and gifts. What I like to ask: What do you love too much to lose? What are you going to do about it? What are you willing to put on the line in order to protect that? How do we act on behalf of what we love?”

Concern can feel paralyzing, but move past that, she says, “Once you fall in love with the world, you can’t be a bystander to destruction.”

In her public talk to an audience of nearly 1,000, Wall Kimmerer said, “Each of us has been given a gift, a unique gift, and a responsibility to use that gift.” She has come to define being an educated person as “someone who knows what their gift is and how to give it to the world.”

Taking care of the earth can include gratitude, education, justice, science, the arts, farms, policies, respect, land care, education, regenerative economies, raising good children, raising a garden, “and raising a ruckus when you need to.”

She challenged the audience to consider: “What does the earth ask of us?” She encouraged a shift in worldview, toward humans treating every part of nature as family rather than as an “it,” and seeing the reciprocity between animals, plants, rivers, and humans. She ultimately answered her own question: “What does the earth ask of us? The earth asks us to change.”

Wall Kimmerer’s visit was supported by a Nazareth Changemakers in Action grant and organized by Nazareth’s Writing Center and writing program.

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Julie Long | Senior News & PR Officer | | (585) 389-2456 | (585) 781-8186 (cell)

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Best-selling author Robin Wall Kimmerer talks with Steve Tolson, director of Nazareth's Charles Mills Writing Center, during a special session for students before her public talk on campus.