VERSAILLES – During the month of November, we pay tribute to indigenous people. It is a time to recognize the different indigenous cultures, their histories, traditional ways of knowing, customs, and plights. One of their underlying ideologies is that of reciprocity.

Reciprocity. That’s an intriguing word. You may know it as reciprocal from math class. Reciprocity is the exchange of items or services with another in which those items or services are mutually beneficial. You may recognize the phrase, “I’ll scratch your back if you’ll scratch mine.” That’s reciprocity.

Indigenous people are quite familiar with this term in their thoughts and actions as it is a foundation to their communities (not only the community of people but with nature as well). Robin Wall Kimmerer, a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, describes reciprocity in her book, Braiding Sweetgrass (page 383), “We are all bound by a covenant of reciprocity. Plant breath for animal breath, winter and summer, predator and prey, grass and fire, night and day, living and dying. Our elders say that ceremony is the way we can remember to remember. In the dance of the giveaway, remember that the earth is a gift we must pass on just as it came to us. When we forget, the dances we’ll need will be for mourning, for the passing of polar bears, the silence of cranes, for the death of rivers, and the memory of snow.”

During November, non-native Americans have a ceremony in which we remember people, experiences, relationships, etc. in which we should be thankful: Thanksgiving. This year, I challenge you to combine the two ceremonies by giving thanks to the items and services that nature gives to you and to find a way to give back in a reciprocal manner. Think about it. There are lots of ways that we can be thankful that originate in Mother Nature. But, how would Mother Nature thank us and what would she be thankful for?

You can visit the Hargan-Matthews Park in Madison to learn more about reciprocity through the children’s book, Giving Thanks, by Chief Jake Swamp. It is about the way in which many indigenous cultures ceremonially give their thanks each morning. The full message can be read at: https://americanindian.si.edu/environment/pdf/01_02_Thanksgiving_Address.pdf. After reading the address, what are some ways you can form a reciprocal relationship with nature and to give thanks? Here are some ways to show reciprocity that you may not have thought of:

• Pick up twigs and limbs in your yard not just so the mower doesn’t get damaged. Instead of burning or putting out them out for pick-up, place them in a pile somewhere in your yard for use as a shelter for other organisms, such as rabbits and birds.

• Combine your trips and organize your shopping as a weekly or bi-weekly event or carpool shop with a friend to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

• How often do you walk by trash in a parking lot, along the road, or other on a trail? Pick up the little bits of trash you find so that they do not become consumed by other organisms to cause them problems.

• Try to reduce your use of single-use plastics such as straws, cup and lids, food trays, grocery bags, sandwich bags, bottles, etc. Choose items in which the containers can be recycled or reused. You’ll be amazed at how many plastic grocery bags you don’t carry home if you use your own re-usable grocery sacks.

• Cut or trim trees when birds and other organisms are not actively using them for foraging or as nesting habitats. If you remove a part of their habitat, they may not be able to share space with you anymore.

Enjoy this month of Thanksgiving and reciprocity by thinking and acting in ways that support both ceremonies.

If you are interested in finding the nature that resides in you and to find the extraordinary in the ordinary things we see or pass up every day, then consider participating in one or more of our events, where you can get personal with nature to make or strengthen your connections to Earth. Find an event at: https://oakheritageconservancy.org/events/

Kirsten Carlson is a biology teacher at Ivy Tech Community College and the Education and Outreach Coordinator for Oak Heritage Conservancy. Oak Heritage is a nonprofit that protects over 1,100 acres of habitat in southeast Indiana, including old growth forests, native wildflower meadows, creeks, and wetlands. They host hands-on nature programs for the public. Their work is possible because of support from their members, donations, and grants.

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