“All Flourishing is Mutual”: Reciprocity, Education, and Braiding Sweetgrass

This presentation was originally given at the 2021 EDST Research Day.

EDST students and faculty are invited to share their own reflections, presentations, or memories from Research Day 2023.

EDST Research Day 2023

(See below for further details)


Amidst the pandemic in 2021, EDST students, faculty, and staff gathered on Zoom one Saturday in April.

The conference opened with introductory remarks from Dr. Margaret Kovach who powerfully discussed the university’s relationship with Indigenous ways of knowing and research methodologies.

The day began with an acknowledgement that UBC resides on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory of the Musqueam people. I extend this land acknowledgement and acknowledge that I live and work upon the unceded lands of the Chinook people, who (for over 120 years) have been seeking formal federal recognition. The process has involved decades of litigation, petitions, congressional legislation and appeals to presidents — yet the tribe is still unrecognized. I share this history to mark my place as a settler on this land, and to bring attention to the ongoing struggles of Indigenous peoples, recognizing that land acknowledgements do not exist in the past tense, but are part of an ongoing process of decolonization.

Following Dr.Kovach’s opening session, I presented the below presentation in a session entitled “Place based education and engaging with our environment.” The presentation draws heavily upon Robin Wall Kimmerer’s bookBraiding Sweetgrass.”

Robin Wall Kimmerer is a SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor of Environmental Biology, and the founder and director of the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment. I came to read Robin’s book on the recommendation of a friend, and immediately fell in love with the way she speaks and views the world.

As a settler scholar engaging with Indigenous knowledges, I recognize (as the great, late Michael Marker has stated) that the academy has acted as a space of colonial erasure of Indigenous worldviews. In my engagement with these ideas, I aim to enact the sense of reciprocity and respect that Kimmerer describes, while supporting the many movements towards decolonizing university spaces.

The photos

The slides in this presentation are black and white film photographs that I took in 2020 amidst the pandemic. The photos began as a series of shots of spider webs on my front porch, but grew into a collection of snapshots capturing a number of “more than human” others.

I share these images to highlight that interaction with the physical world is a social relationship, and that these interactions bind us into the reciprocal relationships that Kimmerer describes. The photos are by no means perfect or professional, but they help me share how I view the world in an added layer that I can’t seem to capture in words alone. The process of taking the photos amidst the scariest parts of the pandemic also allowed me to retreat to the “safety” of my local ecology, building new relations with the land and its history.

With some of the slides you will hear some audio recordings of birds in my yard. In her book Kimmerer writes, “Listening in wild places, we are audience to conversations in a language not our own.” I often find myself wondering what birds are saying to one another, between the caaws and screeches and songs sent out, wondering if they can all understand one another and I’m the only one out of the loop. Within the back and forth I hear patterns and rhythms, as if the birds are composing a collective song. I take inspiration from this song into my presentation, which somewhat takes a form of call and response between Kimmerer’s words and my own.

“All Flourishing is Mutual”: Reciprocity, Education, and Braiding Sweetgrass


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EDST students, faculty, and staff are warmly invited to share reflections, photos, and other memories from the conference. Reflections may take on the form of short narratives (such as this one on CSSE 2021 from EDST’s Yotam Ronen), summations of panel sessions, or other takeaways from the conference day.

Presenting a paper, poster, performance, roundtable, or other type of presentation?

Consider making your presentation into a blog post like this one! Posts typically are 500-1,000 words long and may include links, images, links, audio, video, and other forms of multimedia.

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Academic Indian Job Description, a Poem

Academic Indian job description, a poem
By Cash Ahenakew

Photo by: Vanessa de Oliveira Andreotti
have to know
western knowledge and education
plus the critique of
western knowledge and education
have to know
indigenous ‘culture’ and education
plus the critique and the critique of the critique of
indigenous ‘culture’ and education
have to know
how to embody expected authenticity
and how to embody expected critique
of expected authenticity
have to know
when and where to use indigenous literature
and when and where to use the Western canon
to build legitimacy and credibility for indigenous thought and experience
have to know
when to vilify, to romanticize, to essentialize
when to apologize, to complexify, to compromise
when and who to be accountable to and why
have to know
how to reject modernity, how to be a modern Indian
how to ignore contradictions
how to deny incommensurabilities
have to know
when and how to perform at the same time
competence, confidence, boldness, heroic rebelliousness
and humility, compliance and gratitude for the opportunity
have to know
how to be an intellectual, an activist, a therapist, and an entrepreneur
how to improve retention, attrition and social mobility
and how to stop exploitation and ecological disaster
have to know
how to educate ‘your people’, liberal allies, immigrants, colleagues
how to relate to gang members, business sponsors, elders, politicians
how to speak with the crows, the trees, the sea, and the media
have to know
how to face and to help others heal inter-generational trauma in
self-doubt, self-harm, self-hatred
and self-defeating prophecies of self-sabotage
have to know
how to read and mirror middle class sense making and sensibility
in writing, speech, clothing, arts, taste,
as well as waste management, and table manners
have to know
how to push back, to show a finger, to ghost dance
how to honour elders, to wash toilets, to carry the weight
how to perform ceremonies, to carry a pipe, and to cure the sick
have to know
how to how to spell, to pronounce, to solve and to fix
colonialism, capitalism, racism, slavery, patriarchy,
hetero-cis-normativity, ableism, elitism, and intersectional violence
have to know
languages lost and found of family, communities, earth, spirit
languages imposed of nation, property, individualism, competition
and institutional academic language of secular liberal humanism
have to know
how to Indigenize and decolonize
disciplines, protocols, ethics and methodologies
to make aspiring experts on Indigenous issues feel and look good
have to know
how to package all of this in a foreign English language
to convince top ranked journals and performance analysts
that you too, against all odds, have market value
have to know
how to live with the guilt of having credentials, a secure job
and the awareness of compliance with a rigged system
built on the broken back and wounded soul of your family members
have to know
how to advance the project of reconciliation
with relatives who have harmed seven generations
with destitution, dispossession and “cultural” genocide
Apply online now.
This poem was first published in the article: Ahenakew, C. (2016). Grafting Indigenous ways of knowing onto non-Indigenous ways of being: The (underestimated) challenges of a decolonial imagination. International Review of Qualitative Research, 9(3), 323-340.