What We’re Reading: Robin Kimmerer, “Returning the Gift”

Though we live in a world made of gifts, we find ourselves harnessed to institutions and an economy that relentlessly asks, “What more can we take from the Earth?” This worldview of unbridled exploitation is to my mind the greatest threat to the life that surrounds us. Even our definitions of sustainability revolve around trying to find the formula to ensure that we can keep on taking, far into the future. Isn’t the question we need, “What does the Earth ask of us?” (Robin Kimmerer, “Returning the Gift,” Minding Nature May 2014)

Published in the Center for Humans & Nature’s journal Minding Nature, “Returning the Gift” (click here for full article) is Dr. Kimmerer’s invitation for us to shift our hearts and minds away from our current culture of scarcity—which always seeks to “take more”—towards a worldview of gratitude and reciprocity for the shared gifts of the Earth.

She paints a deeply personal and spiritually refreshing picture of how we could restore more harmonious and respectful relationships with nature.  For Robin, two questions we should ask ourselves more often are, “What does the Earth ask of us?” and “How can we reciprocate the gifts of the Earth?”  Infused with teachings from her Potowatomi Nation and her own experience as a distinguished scientist, she draws simple, humble, lessons that may have great transformative potential…for those who know how to listen. ​

Is Dr. Kimmerer right?  Is the issue at hand not only the balance of sustainability we maintain, but our conception of sustainability itself?

Dr. Kimmerer will be one of the panelists at the upcoming symposium on Foundations of a New American Environmentalism.  Please consider joining us for the live symposium on campus, or via the symposium Twitter chat at @ESFNewEnv.