Robin Wall Kimmerer

Robin Wall Kimmerer (born 1953) is an American Distinguished Teaching Professor of Environmental and Forest Biology; and Director, Center for Native Peoples and the Environment, at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY-ESF).

Robin Wall Kimmerer
Born (1953-09-13) September 13, 1953 (age 69)
Alma materBS, SUNY-ESF
MS, PhD, University of Wisconsin–Madison
Known forher scholarship on traditional ecological knowledge, and moss ecology; outreach to tribal communities; creative writing
AwardsJohn Burroughs Medal Award, for Gathering Moss; MacArthur Fellowship
Scientific career
FieldsPlant ecology, Botany
InstitutionsSUNY-ESF; Centre College; Transylvania University
ThesisVegetation Development and Community Dynamics in a Dated Series of Abandoned Lead-Zinc Mines in Southwestern Wisconsin (1983)

She is the author of numerous scientific articles, and the books Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses (2003), and Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants (2013). An audiobook version was released in 2016, narrated by the author. Braiding Sweetgrass was republished in 2020 with a new introduction.

She is an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation,[1] and combines her heritage with her scientific and environmental passions.

Early life and educationEdit

Robin Wall Kimmerer was born in 1953 in Upstate New York to Robert and Patricia Wall. Her time outdoors rooted a deep appreciation for the natural environment. Her enthusiasm for the environment was encouraged by her parents, who began to reconnect with their own Potawatomi heritage while living in upstate New York. Kimmerer is an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation.[2]

Kimmerer remained near home for college, attending State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry and receiving a bachelor's degree in botany in 1975. She spent two years working for Bausch & Lomb as a microbiologist. Kimmerer then moved to Wisconsin to attend the University of Wisconsin–Madison, earning her master's degree in botany there in 1979, followed by her PhD in plant ecology in 1983. It was while studying forest ecology as part of her degree program, that she first learnt about mosses, which became the scientific focus of her career.[3]


Rainforest Moss

From Wisconsin, Kimmerer moved to Kentucky, where she briefly taught at Transylvania University in Lexington before moving to Danville, Kentucky where she taught biology, botany, and ecology at Centre College. Kimmerer received tenure at Centre College. In 1993, Kimmerer returned home to upstate New York and her alma mater, ESF, where she currently teaches.

Kimmerer teaches in the Environmental and Forest Biology Department at ESF. She teaches courses on Land and Culture, Traditional Ecological Knowledge, Ethnobotany, Ecology of Mosses, Disturbance Ecology, and General Botany. Director of the newly established Center for Native Peoples and the Environment  at ESF, which is part of her work to provide programs that allow for greater access for Indigenous students to study environmental science, and for science to benefit from the wisdom of Native philosophy to reach the common goal of sustainability.[4]

Kimmerer is a proponent of the Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) approach, which Kimmerer describes as a "way of knowing." TEK is a deeply empirical scientific approach and is based on long-term observation. However, it also involves cultural and spiritual considerations, which have often been marginalized by the greater scientific community. Wider use of TEK by scholars has begun to lend credence to it.

Kimmerer's efforts are motivated in part by her family history. Her grandfather was a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, and received colonialist schooling at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. The school, similar to Canadian residential schools, set out to "civilize" Native children, forbidding residents from speaking their language, and effectively erasing their Native culture. Knowing how important it is to maintain the traditional language of the Potawatomi, Kimmerer attends a class to learn how to speak the traditional language because "when a language dies, so much more than words are lost."[5][6]

Her current work spans traditional ecological knowledge, moss ecology, outreach to Indigenous communities, and creative writing.

Professional serviceEdit

Kimmerer has helped sponsor the Undergraduate Mentoring in Environmental Biology (UMEB) project, which pairs students of color with faculty members in the enviro-bio sciences while they work together to research environmental biology. Kimmerer is also a part of the United States Department of Agriculture's Higher Education Multicultural Scholars Program. The program provides students with real-world experiences that involve complex problem-solving. Kimmerer is also involved in the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES), and works with the Onondaga Nation's school doing community outreach. Kimmerer also uses traditional knowledge and science collectively for ecological restoration in research. She has served on the advisory board of the Strategies for Ecology Education, Development and Sustainability (SEEDS) program, a program to increase the number of minority ecologists. Kimmerer is also the former chair of the Ecological Society of America Traditional Ecological Knowledge Section.

In April 2015, Kimmerer was invited to participate as a panelist at a United Nations plenary meeting to discuss how harmony with nature can help to conserve and sustainably use natural resources, titled "Harmony with Nature: Towards achieving sustainable development goals including addressing climate change in the post-2015 Development Agenda."[7][8]

Honors and awardsEdit

Kimmerer received the John Burroughs Medal Award for her book, Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses.[9] Her first book, it incorporated her experience as a plant ecologist and her understanding of traditional knowledge about nature. Her second book, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants, received the 2014 Sigurd F. Olson Nature Writing Award.[10] By 2021 over 500,000 copies had been sold worldwide.[3] Braiding Sweetgrass is about the interdependence of people and the natural world, primarily the plant world. She won a second Burroughs award for an essay, "Council of the Pecans," that appeared in Orion magazine in 2013.[11] Kimmerer received an honorary M. Phil degree in Human Ecology from College of the Atlantic on June 6, 2020.[12]

In 2022 Kimmerer was awarded the MacArthur "genius" award.[13]


  • Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses (Oregon State University Press, 2003) ISBN 0-87071-499-6.
  • Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants (Milkweed Editions, 2013) ISBN 9781571313355.


  1. ^ "Writers-in-Residence Program: Robin Kimmerer." Archived April 2, 2013, at the Wayback Machine HJ Andrews Experimental Forest. 2004. Retrieved July 17, 2012.
  2. ^ "Robin Wall Kimmerer: Americans Who Tell The Truth". Retrieved January 5, 2022.
  3. ^ a b "Robin Wall Kimmerer: 'Mosses are a model of how we might live'". the Guardian. June 19, 2021. Retrieved June 19, 2021.
  4. ^ "Robin W. Kimmerer | Environmental and Forest Biology | SUNY-ESF". Retrieved February 20, 2021.
  5. ^ Wall., Kimmerer, Robin, Braiding sweetgrass : indigenous wisdom, scientific knowledge and the teachings of plants, ISBN 978-0-221-05883-7, OCLC 1155921718, retrieved February 20, 2021
  6. ^ "Robin Wall Kimmerer | Americans Who Tell The Truth". Retrieved February 20, 2021.
  7. ^ Communications, ESF Office of. "Kimmerer to Speak at U.N." SUNY-ESF. Retrieved December 1, 2022.
  8. ^ "UN Chromeless Video Player full features". Retrieved December 1, 2022.
  9. ^ "Home". Retrieved December 1, 2022.
  10. ^ Hertzel, Laurie. ""Braiding Sweetgrass" wins Sigurd Olson nature writing award". Star Tribune. Retrieved December 1, 2022.
  11. ^ "Home". Retrieved December 1, 2022.
  12. ^ "COA to celebrate 47th commencement". Retrieved December 1, 2022.
  13. ^ "Robin Wall Kimmerer". Retrieved October 12, 2022.


Further readingEdit

External linksEdit