A teaching about Honourable Harvest by Robin Wall Kimmerer
September 17, 2019
Harvest season is here! What a beautiful time in the year. We thought we would take the time to share with you a teaching about Honourable Harvest written by Robin Wall Kimmerer author of Braiding Sweetgrass and Gathering Moss.
Honourable Harvest by Robin Wall Kimmerer.
The canon of indigenous principles that govern the exchange of life for life is known as the Honorable Harvest. They are “rules” of sorts that govern our taking, so that the world is as rich for the seventh generation as it is for us.
The Honorable Harvest, a practice both ancient and urgent, applies to every exchange between people and the Earth. Its protocol is not written down, but if it were, it would look something like this:
Ask permission of the ones whose lives you seek. Abide by the answer.
Never take the first. Never take the last.
Harvest in a way that minimizes harm.
Take only what you need and leave some for others.
Use everything that you take.
Take only that which is given to you.
Share it, as the Earth has shared with you.
Reciprocate the gift.
Sustain the ones who sustain you, and the Earth will last forever.
Though we live in a world made of gifts, we find ourselves harnessed to institutions and an economy that relentlessly ask, “What more can we take from the Earth?” In order for balance to occur, we cannot keep taking without replenishing. Don’t we need to ask, “What can we give?”
The Honorable Harvest is a covenant of reciprocity between humans and the land. This simple list may seem like a quaint prescription for how to pick berries, but it is the root of a sophisticated ethical protocol that could guide us in a time when unbridled exploitation threatens the life that surrounds us. Western economies and institutions enmesh us all in a profoundly dishonorable harvest. Collectively, by assent or by inaction, we have chosen the policies we live by. We can choose again.
What if the Honorable Harvest were the law of the land? And humans—not just plants and animals—fulfilled the purpose of supporting the lives of others? What would the world look like if a developer poised to convert a meadow to a shopping mall had first to ask permission of the meadowlarks and the goldenrod? And abide by their answer? What if we fill our shopping baskets with only that which is needed and give something back in return?
How can we reciprocate the gifts of the Earth? In gratitude, in ceremony, through acts of practical reverence and land stewardship, in fierce defense of the places we love, in art, in science, in song, in gardens, in children, in ballots, in stories of renewal, in creative resistance, in how we spend our money and our precious lives, by refusing to be complicit with the forces of ecological destruction. Whatever our gift, we are called to give it and dance for the renewal of the world.