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Book talk brings Braiding Sweetgrass wisdom to West Vancouver

Children’s author Monique Gray Smith takes Robin Wall Kimmerer’s bestselling 2014 book and reshapes it for students
Author Monique Gray Smith has adapted Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants to be approachable to young adults. The author will discuss the book and her own personal journey with Mulgrave School students April 30.

Ranking on the New York Times, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times bestseller lists, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants, by Potawatomi professor Robin Wall Kimmerer, is a text that belongs on every bookshelf.

The book, a recipient of the 2014 Sigurd F. Olson Nature Writing Award, talks on the role of Indigenous knowledge as an alternative to Western science and medicine. It is, according to children’s author Monique Gray Smith, a book of lessons that are beneficial for all readers regardless of age, hence why she’s recently adapted the bestseller to be read by young adults.

“I think that Braiding Sweetgrass is one of the most important texts of our time,” said Gray Smith, an author and storyteller of Cree, Lakota and Scottish heritage. “It helps us to understand history, the importance of today’s scientific knowledge, teachings of the plants, and Indigenous wisdom. All of those together really help us to be these beautiful humans walking the planet, and we need that knowledge,” she said.

They are lessons Gray Smith hopes to deliver to the local community come April 30, when she will host a day of reading, presentations and book signings at West Vancouver’s Mulgrave School.

The day, which will begin with a discussion about community and wellbeing with school staff, before moving into a session with students and, later in the evening, a talk and Q&A session with the wider Mulgrave community, will be an “uplifting” one, said Gray Smith.

“I’ll be talking a little bit about history and its implications today, for us as Indigenous people, but also, for all of the citizens that live in this space we call Canada. We’ll talk a little bit about what happens in students’ bodies when we experience stress and trauma, and how that can impact a student’s learning journeys.”

Gray Smith said she will coach the students through some of their “more stressful times” and will teach them how to connect back to the land.

The author will also share her own, personal story, one of recovery, hope and resilience that details her path from alcoholism to becoming a bestselling author.

The school’s Indigenous education co-ordinator Raquel Teibert said she has long admired Kimmerer’s original Braiding Sweetgrass and has often looked for ways to incorporate the material into the school curriculum.

“When we saw Monique had created an adapted version, we noticed that it focused more on the concepts of storytelling rather than the scientific elements behind certain natural phenomena,” she said. “So it’s actually more about how we can bring Indigenous ways of knowing to light through storytelling, and how does that become accessible for students of all ages?”

Teibert said she’s hoping students will gain further understanding of how local Indigenous communities connect to the land, and how often many of the stories that come from Indigenous communities are rooted in practices and traditions that have been around since time immemorial.

“We’re hoping students can gain a better appreciation for the role of storytelling and how it allows for certain communities to pass on personal and cultural knowledge,” she said.

As for Gray Smith, she said she hopes the students and wider Mulgrave community learn that each person has an important role in their own wellness, the wellness of others, of all living things, and the planet.

“The biggest thing I want them to take away is that, we’ve all come into this world with a sacred bundle of gifts, our own unique ways to contribute to the wellness of the world,” she said. “It’s a journey to figure out what those gifts are. Sometimes people who are 70 still aren’t sure of those gifts, so for these students in Grade 11 or 12 who think they should know everything, I hope this is a gentle time and a time of hope, talking about possibilities and dreaming about what the future can be,” she said.

For tickets to the author reading and book signing taking place April 30, visit the event's webpage

Mina Kerr-Lazenby is the North Shore News’ Indigenous and civic affairs reporter. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.

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