Living in Reciprocity with All Our Relations

Students explore the meaning of All Our Relations and interdependence by creating a community web that demonstrates these important concepts. Students will also explore how many of the things they depend on in their everyday lives come from the natural world.

Program Details

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Living in Reciprocity with All Our Relations


•The Gift is in the Making.pdf • Chart paper and markers/writing tools • People of the Corn and Light- Chapter from Robin Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants • Asemaa (tobacco) • Offering Asemaa (Tobacco).pdf
Part 1: Understanding “All Our Relations”
  1. Teacher reads the story All our Relations from Leanne Simpson’s book The Gift is in the Making: Anishinaabeg Stories found in The Gift is in the Making.pdf. If possible, invite a Knowledge Keeper or community member into the classroom to assist with storytelling. 
  2. Teacher leads a discussion with students regarding the key message in the story.

Key Message: Story talks about how the Anishinaabe came to learn that all things are related and the importance of living in reciprocity with the land to ensure that all living things (including animal and plant species) thrive.

  • Discussion Prompts:
    • How are we related to the plants and animals around us? 
    • Who (including the animals, plants, the air, the land) do we take for granted in our lives? 
    • How can the energy we put into something affect it? 
Part 2: Reciprocal Relationships
  1. Students create 3 columns on a piece of paper or on the board. In the first column, students make a list of all the things they are dependent on in their daily lives (products, relationships, etc.) In the second column, besides applicable items, students write down the natural source these products come from. In the third column, students record how they give back to the things they have listed. 
  2. Teacher then leads a class discussion regarding what it means to live in reciprocity with the land and the things in the natural world on which we depend. 
  • Discussion Prompts:
    • How can you maintain a positive, or sustainable relationship with the beings on which we depend?
    • What are some more environmentally safe alternatives to some of the products we use?
    • How can we give back to the land in addition to taking from it?

3. The class then comes up with a definition of reciprocity to be displayed in the classroom. 

  • Prompts for thinking about reciprocity:
    • Are humans in a reciprocal relationship with the natural world? 
    • How does reciprocity relate to sustainability? 

4. Depending on the reading level of the class students can read Robin Kimmerer “People of Corn and Light” found in Braiding Sweetgrass p. 341.

  • Discussion Prompts:
    • What does this story teach us about living reciprocally with the natural world?

5. Students can find (or return) to a sit spot in nature and use their Outdoor Learning Journals (introduced in the Teacher’s Guide) to reflect on the ways in which they already live in reciprocity with the land as well as changes they wish to make to foster more reciprocity.

Part 3: How Tobacco demonstrates reciprocity 

A Knowledge Keeper or community member should be present. 

  1. Indigenous peoples across the globe rely on plants for many of their needs ie: food, ceremony and medicine. As a way of giving thanks to the land for the gifts it provides many Indigenous groups gift tobacco to the natural world. The giving to in addition to taking from the land ensures that the community lives in reciprocity with the land.
  2. As a class, students can learn the Indigenous names for tobacco, as well as Indigenous stories that demonstrate the importance of tobacco. (This is a review from the Indigenous Knowledge Bundle.)
  3. Students will also explore the cultural practice of putting down tobacco to express gratitude. Teacher should discuss with students the importance of non-Indigenous people putting down a tobacco substitute or of expressing reciprocity with the land in a different way. The principle behind the ceremony of laying tobacco is not what is important for students to learn here. What is important is for students to act from their own positionality in a manner that gives back to the land in acknowledgement of the gifts it provides.

Information about tobacco and how to offer tobacco can be found in the Offering Asemaa (Tobacco).pdf. This background information will help teachers facilitate the discussion above. To learn more about tobacco protocols you can also watch a short video clip embedded in the ten-minute video accompanying the Indigenous Knowledge Bundle of Tayohseron:tye, Nikki Auten who is Kanyen’kehá:ka (Turtle Clan) from Kenhtéke Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, and Métis and Ojibwe Knowledge Keeper Deb St. Amant sharing tobacco teachings. 

Optional Extension:

As an extension, the teacher can discuss Western scientific understandings of the plant as well as the Western history of tobacco. If at Elbow Lake students can visit the Fowler Lake Herbarium to determine how Western scientists preserve plant specimens. This can lead to a discussion on how different scientists interact with plants. In Western science, species are commonly preserved to help scientists study their anatomy. In Indigenous science, species are usually kept in their natural habitats or species that act as medicines or food are taken and cared for respectfully according to cultural protocols.