The following is an exerpt from Perennial Farm Gathering 2023 and our live Q&A with Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer, one of our keynote speakers for the event. To watch a recording of the session and get access to all PFG2023 sessions, purchase the recorded sessions.

Jacob: Hi folks, this is Jacob Grace, and you’re listening to perennial AF, the Savanna Institute’s podcast and blog about perennial agroforestry. We’re doing a quick turnaround here on an episode from this year’s Perennial Farm Gathering, which was just last week. We’ll be listening back to the live Q&A with Doctor Robin Wall Kimmerer, one of our keynote speakers.

Dr. Kimmerer is a mother, professor and enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. Her book, Braiding Sweetgrass, has earned her worldwide acclaim along with her previous book, Gathering Moss. Doctor Kimmerer is also the founder and director of the State University of New York’s Center for Native Peoples and the Environment, whose mission is to create programs which draw on the wisdom of both indigenous and scientific knowledge for our shared goals of sustainability. She is interested in the restoration of not just ecological communities, but restoration of our relationships to the land.

In a prerecorded presentation at the PFG, Dr. Kimmerer described her vision for uniting the best of SEK, or scientific ecological knowledge, with the best of TEK, or traditional ecological knowledge, not by blending or hybridizing them, but by letting them each stand on their own and grow to their full potential in the same garden – a garden of knowledge. Here is Savanna Institute executive director Keefe Keeley introducing Curt Meine, a friend and colleague of both the Savanna Institute and Dr. Kimmerer, who moderated the question and answer session.  

Keefe: So Robin, thank you so much for being here. I want to extend gratitude on behalf of our whole community for you joining us and for all of your work. And, Curt, thank you for helping to welcome Robin and hold this conversation today as well.  

Curt: Thank you, Keefe. Well, this is not work. This is a delight and an honor. And a chance to reconnect with a dear old friend. Robin and I go way – we go way back. So it seems we can’t be very formal. And thank you again for taking time out of your busy schedule to join us from your place. And I should say that I am speaking from Sauk County, just up the road from the north farm of the Savanna Institute in what my Ho-Chunk friends and neighbors called Maa Wákąčąk, which is the sacred Earth. So, welcome, Robin. Thank you. And thank you again for sharing your message.

Robin: Miigwech for this this warm welcome. I’m so glad to be with you. It’s a it’s a delight for me as well, both to be in conversation with an old friend and for all of you. We’re on Team Land here, right? I’m really interested in hearing about the work that you all are doing to learn from you and to share some ideas. So thank you so much for inviting me here.

Curt: Well, let’s get right to it. I know we have not enough time, and there are a lot of questions. I’m seeing them pour in, and I’m going to do my very best to get as many in and to, uh, to help our audience to gain from your experience and thoughts. And I did want to ask a couple questions real quickly to, I think, anticipate some of what we might hear from our participants. But, Robin, in your talk, there were several hints that you were aiming your presentation first toward educators. And I think we’re all educators, especially when we’re trying to make changes in large systems. But a lot of folks on this call and this program are either in nonprofits or they are land caretakers in their own places and landscapes. So just any quick thoughts about how your message is shared for those who are educators translates outside the walls of academia into places. So those working in the nonprofit sector are working on their own lands. How does the intellectual polyculture get put into practice by those of us outside of academia?

Robin: Well, and that’s really where it happens, right? With people’s hands in the earth, really making these ideas real in the world. And you’re quite right. That talk was designed for educators. But the message, I think, one of the important messages about that intellectual polyculture is the right relationship between indigenous knowledge and in Western science, those tools which are both present that many of us carry as well. And what seems important to me that translates pretty clearly into practice is to put the central focus on indigenous philosophy, because that is held up as like the intellectual scaffolding, right, that supports that curious being of Western science. And I think in land care and in innovative land care in particular, you know, when I think of when I heard myself say innovative land care, so much of this is a reflection of ancestral land care. So it is simultaneously new and ancient, and at the same time. So that remembering element is really important in centering those values of respect and reciprocity and responsibility, accountability, kinship with the land and, and using those as the real guides to the work on the land, is, I think, an important guide that can shape all the work that, that we do. And then we remember that those scientific perspectives are tools. They’re tools that help us implement those values the land.