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Teaching Braiding Sweetgrass in American Lit

A copy of the book Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer on top of a purple and blue quilt. There is a white border at the top of the photo with pink text that reads "American Lit - Braiding Sweetgrass"

Incorporate Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer into your American Literature curriculum as an example of Indigenous literature, poetry, and memoir. This book truly “has it all”!

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Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer (Citizen Potawatomi Nation)

Last year, Victoria from @floury_words recommended several Indigenous texts for Secondary ELA. Among them was Braiding Sweetgrass. Here’s what Victoria said:

The Earth on Turtle’s Back/ Skywoman Falling from Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer (Citizen Potawatomi Nation) 

Sadly, American Literature classes are generally lacking in the Indigenous to the Americas department. Semesters may begin with Onondaga myth “The Earth on Turtle’s Back” but they don’t branch into contemporary Indigenous writing. In her beautiful ode to Indigenous knowledge, Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer, an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, uses an adaptation of the Shenandoah and George (1988) Skywoman: Legends of the Iroquois as an introduction to an essay about interconnectedness. Kimmerer is a professor of biology and says most of her students do not know the creation stories of the land on which they live. Moreover, she states the importance of acknowledging the land we are on and building reciprocity with nature.

In the Classroom

Importantly, Kimmerer transitions from the myth to her own thoughts by describing a painting she has hanging in her office—Bruce King’s Moment in Flight, a painting of the Skywoman myth. This transition is important because it ties in the integration of knowledge and ideas (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.11-12.7)—analyzing multiple interpretations of a story, drama, or poem and evaluating how each version interprets the source text. It is the perfect lesson in comparing an adaptation of an oral tradition, a contemporary, non-fiction work by an Own Voices author, and art interpretation. Through positioning Kimmerer as the anchor text, students see the importance of oral tradition in Indigenous cultures and can easily visualize that the stories are still being handed down–they aren’t simply relics from the past.

Why teaching Indigenous Literature is important

Victoria definitely tackles this question in her post, so be sure to check that out! Additionally, Megan from @tiplerteaches shares these Indigenous novels for Secondary ELA to increase the representation in your classroom library.

Want to improve the selection in your classroom library, but aren’t sure where to start? Try conducting a diversity audit of your shelves to identify missing voices. Click here to download my free resource that walks you through the process 🙂

A copy of the book Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer on top of a purple and blue quilt. There is a black box at the top left of the photo with white text that reads "Braiding Sweetgrass - Recommendations for American Lit""

More ideas for teaching Braiding Sweetgrass

Consequently, Braiding Sweetgrass is a long book. It’s a master blend of poetry, literary nonfiction, ecology, and memoir. We know it’s a lot, and we want to help make it manageable for your curriculum. Victoria and I will share teaching ideas for five excerpts from the book in the spring.

In the meantime, buy the book! (I’m a Bookshop affiliate partner. Bookshop is an organization dedicated to helping indie bookstores. As an affiliate, I get a small percentage of the profit, at no cost to you. So by using my Bookshop affiliate link, you’ll be supporting small businesses and my blog.)

And if you’re more into audiobooks, you can find this one read by Robin Wall Kimmerer herself. I’ve been listening to it as I walk my dog, and I can say that it’s best enjoyed outdoors.

Happy teaching!

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