Replied to by emsennemsenn (
This is an amazing series of photographs and piece of journalism. I, and many Indigenous peers, have been dismissed as “racial supremacists” in the past for our belief that it is Indigenous cultures that are capable of surviving, not kyriarchists. It’s difficult to tolerate such hateful misrep...

The approach of this photo-journalist stands in stark contrast to the history of taking photos of Indigenous peoples, which was recently expressed beautifully in “No, not even for a picture.

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“One of the goals of the assignment is to see firsthand how so much of what we know about plants has come from their traditional and cultural use, and the anecdotal evidence passed down from generations.”
See, to me, that’s a really weird goal for an ethnobotanical instructor to set out for its students. First, it’s very… lopsided. A lot of what botanists know has come from ethnobotanical practices, sure, but… it didn’t just come from traditional knowledge, passed down through generations. It also had to survive through displacement, language loss, and then was translated into the language of colonial botanists. That is a long journey between contexts that isn’t captured by “go look at Indigenous knowledge and note how much of it entered colonial botanical understanding.” Frankly, it seems a little… I mean, it doesn’t seem cool to say “be appreciative of how much we’ve learned from Indigenous people” without encouraging an appreciation first of the relationship between “we” and “Indigenous people.”
Second, I would care much more that you learn the journey between contexts, than the information that travels along that journey. The same for an indigenous-approach to plants, in general: it isn’t the specific properties of plants that I think is what makes “ethnobotany” different from botany – I mean, of course not: willow tree is willow tree whether you call it that or waȟpȟópa.
The information, the knowledge, isn’t what matters to any Indigenous person who works with plants. It’s the methodology with which that knowledge is gained. By analogy: Botanical coursework makes it very very clear that you are to adhere to the scientific method during the course of your research. This ethnobotanical course should, in my opinion, make it clear that is just one method of research, and maybe give you a taste of those other methods.
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Dang, I was pretty wary about academia’s intentions toward Indigenous people before reading this, and this is disappointingly justifying that wariness. Nothing against you, OP. Does the syllabus really say just, go find an Indigenous person, any indigenous person, and ask them about their cultural knowledge? Is there… compensation for this knowledge? Or any sort of transparency in how it will be used? (Again, OP, I know you’re just trying to fulfill a school assignment; I’m not shooting the messenger here, but I’ve gotta say my piece about the message.)

I’d be really curious to see the questions that you were given, but I probably wouldn’t give my answers. If you feel comfortable, I would be okay with you sharing my sentiment with your instructor: It is a perversion of ethnobotany to approach it as though Indigenous knowledge is a resource, and not a framework with which to understand plants.

Read Land-grab Universities

Excerpt below:

“Over the past two years, High Country News has located more than 99% of all Morrill Act acres, identified their original Indigenous inhabitants and caretakers, and researched the principal raised from their sale in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. We reconstructed approximately 10.7 million acres taken from nearly 250 tribes, bands and communities through over 160 violence-backed land cessions, a legal term for the giving up of territory[…]

“There would be no higher education as we know it in the United States without the original and ongoing colonization of Indigenous peoples and lands, just like there would be no United States,” said Sharon Stein, an assistant professor at the University of British Columbia. “There is no moment or time or place or institution that is not deeply entangled with the violence of colonialism[…]”

To be sure, land-grant universities have accomplishments to celebrate[…] If it’s hard to deny that the Morrill Act expanded access to higher education, promoted economic development, and improved quality of life, it’s just as hard to believe that it all happened without cost[…]

“There’s a basic, underlying need for settlers in settler colonial states to have these kinds of mythological narratives about the benevolence of their own governments and about the progress that they supposedly brought to this place,” said Sharon Stein. “Having a conversation about the colonial foundations of those nation states really complicates those narratives, and it starts to bring into question our very right to be here and our right to make claims on this place and on the institutions that we are generally so attached to[…]”

In this context, Indigenous people are an inconvenient truth. If you look at the law and the treaties, then you raise an existential question about the United States and its very right to be here. It’s a question most people would rather ignore.

It’s disappointing to see that so many settler-folk are suddenly able to talk about Native issues, now that it could potentially affect them and their colonialism, in response to McGirt vs Oklahoma. Take a lesson from the ruling, wašíču, and step outside your little settler-sick thinking and make an appreciation for other cultures and other legitimate justice systems something you can’t forget. Better worlds than yours exist.