The Honorable Harvest and Jeffers Petroglyphs Field Trip
September 15, 2023
Over the last week, Derek Debrauske’s science classes (Biology and Environment & Sustainability) and thomas carlson’s language arts class (Counter Stories In American Literature) worked together to study a story pattern known as the “honorable harvest”. Stories which follow this pattern teach humans how to harvest from nature in honorable and sustainable ways; ways many Native American communities and traditional cultures across the globe have practiced for millennia.
On Thursday, September 14, as a synthesis experience, the students and instructors left the classroom and bussed almost three hours to southwestern Minnesota to visit the Jeffers Petroglyphs, a stand-out rock outcrop surrounded by miles of prairie.
This site, appearing as a red-rock boat in a sea of tall prairie grasses and wildflowers, has been a birthing ground for bison and a sacred site for many Native American peoples for about 10,000 years. There, the group explored the rock-carved stories etched both by humans and bison on the red Sioux quartzite, while exploring sustainable agriculture techniques and learning about MN native prairie ecosystems.
In preparation for the experience on the prairie, the students read traditional Haudenosaunee and Ojibwe stories as well as contemporary stories told by Robin Wall Kimmerer, an environmental biology professor and member of Potawatomi Nation. She summarizes the teachings of the Honorable Harvest in her book Braiding Sweetgrass:
The Honorable Harvest asks us to give back, in reciprocity, for what we have been given. Reciprocity helps resolve the moral tension of taking a life by giving in return something of value that sustains the ones who sustain us. One of our responsibilities as human people is to find ways to enter into reciprocity with the more-than-human world. We can do it through gratitude, through ceremony, through land stewardship, science, art, and in everyday acts of practical reverence.
Stories that teach how to harvest honorably depend on humans understanding the intimate, immediate, and reciprocal relationships between harvester and harvested, usually portrayed as familial relationships in which animals, plants, and the earth are our relatives.
Unlike the laws and regulations governments use to impose behavior change, Native Peoples have successfully used story to shape and guide values, in addition to behavior. Stories of the honorable harvest instruct us about how to take what our relatives offer in honorable and sustainable ways and, today, we can apply their lessons to the 21st century challenges threatening our environment and climate, like fossil fuels, for example, or biodiversity.