How does Kimmerer use myths to illustrate her ideas in Braiding Sweetgrass?

Kimmerer uses many Indigenous myths, such as the myths of Skywoman, Nanabozho, and the Windigo, in order to demonstrate themes of gratitude, reciprocity, indigeneity, and greed within Braiding Sweetgrass.

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Kimmerer uses many Indigenous myths throughout Braiding Sweetgrass, both in order to demonstrate the foundational philosophies of the Indigenous worldview and to reinforce themes such as gratitude, reciprocity, indigeneity, and greed.

One of the primary mythological figures that Kimmerer explores is Skywoman, the Indigenous First Person. She fell from a hole in the sky but was rescued by the animals of the world, and in return for their kindness she planted seeds from her foreign home, creating plants to populate the earth. This myth highlights the Indigenous values of gratitude and reciprocity because it depicts the gifts of the earth as freely given but also as holding an implicit responsibility. The animals offer their service to Skywoman freely, but in response, she has an implicit responsibility to be grateful for their sacrifices and reciprocate their generosity.

Meanwhile, Nanabozho—the Indigenous First Man, formed by the Creator and placed upon Skywoman's earth—is a mythological figure that Kimmerer invokes in her discussion of indigeneity. She highlights that, just like Nanabozho, we were all once immigrants to this earth, and it is only through a conscious process of assimilation that we can eventually claim indigeneity to place.

Finally, Kimmerer discusses the mythological creature of the Windigo in the book's final section, "Burning Sweetgrass." The Windigo is akin to the Western boogieman, used to frighten children into good behavior and instill good values. Windigos are the husks of men who have eaten human flesh during the winter, those who have succumbed to their hunger in spite of their morals. The curse of the Windigos is that the more they eat, the hungrier they become—a trait that Kimmerer uses as a metaphor for current Western consumerist culture.

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