Braiding Sweetgrass

by

Robin Wall Kimmerer

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Braiding Sweetgrass can help.

Nanabozho Character Analysis

Nanabozho is the Anishinaabe Original Man, a trickster figure who in some mythologies is part human and part spirit. He often acts as a teacher of humanity, and stories about him are used to teach valuable lessons. In Braiding Sweetgrass, Kimmerer describes Nanabozho as being born of the Creator, placed upon Turtle Island, and taught by the Creator to live according to the Original Instructions. He is tasked with naming all the parts of creation that Skywoman had danced into being, but he also learns from the plants and animals about how best to live on Turtle Island. Kimmerer uses the story of Nanabozho’s creation to show how one might become Indigenous to a place by treating the land with respect and walking so that “each step is a greeting to Mother Earth.”

Nanabozho Quotes in Braiding Sweetgrass

The Braiding Sweetgrass quotes below are all either spoken by Nanabozho or refer to Nanabozho. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Reciprocity and Communalism Theme Icon
).
Chapter 17 Quotes

Cautionary stories of the consequences of taking too much are ubiquitous in Native cultures, but it’s hard to recall a single one in English. Perhaps this helps to explain why we seem to be caught in a trap of overconsumption, which is as destructive to ourselves as to those we consume.

Related Characters: Robin Wall Kimmerer (speaker), Nanabozho
Page Number: 179
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 18 Quotes

Had the new people learned what Original Man was taught at a council of animals—never damage Creation, and never interfere with the sacred purpose of another being—the eagle would look down on a different world. The salmon would be crowding up the rivers, and passenger pigeons would darken the sky. […] I would be speaking Potawatomi. We would see what Nanabozho saw. It does not bear too much imagining, for in that direction lies heartbreak.

Against the backdrop of that history, an invitation to settler society to become Indigenous to place feels like a free ticket to a housebreaking party. It could be read as an open invitation to take what little is left. Can settlers be trusted to follow Nanabozho, to walk so that “each step is a greeting to Mother Earth”?

Related Characters: Robin Wall Kimmerer (speaker), Nanabozho
Page Number: 211
Explanation and Analysis:

Maybe the task assigned to Second Man is to unlearn the model of kudzu and follow the teachings of White Man’s Footstep, to strive to become naturalized to place, to throw off the mind-set of the immigrant. Being naturalized to place means to live as if this is the land that feeds you, as if these are the streams from which you drink, that build your body and fill your spirit. […] Here you will give your gifts and meet your responsibilities. To become naturalized is to live as if your children’s future matters, to take care of the land as if our lives and the lives of all our relatives depend on it. Because they do.

Related Characters: Robin Wall Kimmerer (speaker), Nanabozho
Page Number: 214-215
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Braiding Sweetgrass LitChart as a printable PDF.
Braiding Sweetgrass PDF

Nanabozho Character Timeline in Braiding Sweetgrass

The timeline below shows where the character Nanabozho appears in Braiding Sweetgrass. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 7
Reciprocity and Communalism Theme Icon
Gifts, Gratitude, and Responsibility Theme Icon
The Indigenous Past and Future Theme Icon
The chapter begins with a story of Nanabozho, the Anishinaabe “Original Man.” Nanabozho observed that in some villages, people had grown lazy and... (full context)
Gifts, Gratitude, and Responsibility Theme Icon
Motherhood and Teaching Theme Icon
The Indigenous Past and Future Theme Icon
...also remember drinking the sap straight from the tree. Kimmerer also reminds the reader of Nanabozho’s story—that the maples produce the sap, but humans must work to turn it into syrup.... (full context)
Chapter 17
Reciprocity and Communalism Theme Icon
Indigenous Wisdom and Scientific Knowledge Theme Icon
Gifts, Gratitude, and Responsibility Theme Icon
Motherhood and Teaching Theme Icon
Animacy and Value Theme Icon
The Indigenous Past and Future Theme Icon
Kimmerer then relates a story told by an elder about Nanabozho, who was the Anishinaabe original man and a great teacher. One day Heron taught Nanabozho... (full context)
Chapter 18
Indigenous Wisdom and Scientific Knowledge Theme Icon
The Indigenous Past and Future Theme Icon
...created, after all other life; this is why they’re called the youngest siblings of creation. Nanabozho, the first man to be created, was part human, part spirit, and is an important... (full context)
Reciprocity and Communalism Theme Icon
Indigenous Wisdom and Scientific Knowledge Theme Icon
Motherhood and Teaching Theme Icon
Animacy and Value Theme Icon
The Indigenous Past and Future Theme Icon
Kimmerer imagines how Nanabozho felt upon first arriving in his new home of Turtle Island. She herself felt strange... (full context)
Reciprocity and Communalism Theme Icon
Indigenous Wisdom and Scientific Knowledge Theme Icon
Gifts, Gratitude, and Responsibility Theme Icon
Motherhood and Teaching Theme Icon
Animacy and Value Theme Icon
The Indigenous Past and Future Theme Icon
When Nanabozho was created, the Creator gave him the Original Instructions as rules to live by. One... (full context)
Reciprocity and Communalism Theme Icon
Animacy and Value Theme Icon
The Indigenous Past and Future Theme Icon
Having been instructed to walk across the earth, Nanabozho first goes East, towards the rising sun and in the traditional direction of knowledge. There... (full context)
Reciprocity and Communalism Theme Icon
Indigenous Wisdom and Scientific Knowledge Theme Icon
The Indigenous Past and Future Theme Icon
Kimmerer imagines Nanabozho walking across the land alongside Carl Linnaeus, the Swedish botanist who devised our current scientific... (full context)
Indigenous Wisdom and Scientific Knowledge Theme Icon
Motherhood and Teaching Theme Icon
Animacy and Value Theme Icon
The Indigenous Past and Future Theme Icon
Nanabozho then goes South to the land of birth and growth. There he learns from cedar,... (full context)
Reciprocity and Communalism Theme Icon
Indigenous Wisdom and Scientific Knowledge Theme Icon
Gifts, Gratitude, and Responsibility Theme Icon
Animacy and Value Theme Icon
The Indigenous Past and Future Theme Icon
Nanabozho continues wandering the earth in all four directions, observing the plants and animals and learning... (full context)
Reciprocity and Communalism Theme Icon
Indigenous Wisdom and Scientific Knowledge Theme Icon
Animacy and Value Theme Icon
The Indigenous Past and Future Theme Icon
...imagining how things would be different if America’s colonizers had learned the same lessons that Nanabozho did—the land might still be plentiful, and she might be speaking the Potawatomi language. It’s... (full context)
Reciprocity and Communalism Theme Icon
Indigenous Wisdom and Scientific Knowledge Theme Icon
Gifts, Gratitude, and Responsibility Theme Icon
Motherhood and Teaching Theme Icon
Animacy and Value Theme Icon
The Indigenous Past and Future Theme Icon
Nanabozho goes North to learn about medicine, and there he receives a healing braid of sweetgrass... (full context)
Reciprocity and Communalism Theme Icon
Indigenous Wisdom and Scientific Knowledge Theme Icon
Gifts, Gratitude, and Responsibility Theme Icon
Animacy and Value Theme Icon
The Indigenous Past and Future Theme Icon
...to the image of time as a circle, Kimmerer imagines White Man’s Footstep following in Nanabozho’s footsteps, lining a path along which we could walk so “that each step is a... (full context)
Chapter 30
Reciprocity and Communalism Theme Icon
Gifts, Gratitude, and Responsibility Theme Icon
Motherhood and Teaching Theme Icon
The Indigenous Past and Future Theme Icon
...and serve to balance each other. Hearing this, Kimmerer briefly references a similar teaching from Nanabozho about how fire itself must be balanced between creation and destruction, and how important it... (full context)
Chapter 31
Reciprocity and Communalism Theme Icon
Gifts, Gratitude, and Responsibility Theme Icon
The Indigenous Past and Future Theme Icon
Though humans alone could never defeat the Windigo in stories, with Nanabozho’s help they were able to succeed. Kimmerer points out something else unique about the story... (full context)
Reciprocity and Communalism Theme Icon
Indigenous Wisdom and Scientific Knowledge Theme Icon
Gifts, Gratitude, and Responsibility Theme Icon
Animacy and Value Theme Icon
The Indigenous Past and Future Theme Icon
...Windigo: “we already have everything we need,” they say. As Robin rises from the ground, Nanabozho appears, grinning mischievously. He tells Robin to give the Windigo “a taste of his own... (full context)