Many of us love our gardens and the food and beauty they provide us. Robin Wall Kimmerer asks in her 2013 best-selling Braiding Sweetgrass, “Does your garden love you?” It’s a question that suggests whether we have a reciprocal relationship with the land that gives us so much.

That was the theme of her talk at Greenfield High School on June 30, 2022, “Restoration and Reciprocity: Healing Relationships with the Natural World.” Many of us from the Unitarian Universalist Society of Amherst went to see the talk by the writer and SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor of Environmental Biology. She’s also a citizen of the Potawatomi Nation, which was originally from upstate New York, but then resettled to Oklahoma.

Her talk, which was hosted by the Nolumbeka Project, focused on how indigenous and scientific wisdom working together can offer us all lessons on how to heal our relationships with the natural world. The talk traced the evolution of restoration philosophy and practice, and reflected on how the integration of indigenous knowledge can expand our understanding of restoration and reciprocity from the biophysical to the biocultural.

Ecological restoration can be understood as an act of reciprocity, in return for the gifts of the earth. It’s an invitation to explore the ecological and ethical imperatives of healing the damage we have inflicted on our land and waters. Reciprocal restoration includes not only healing the land, but our relationship to land – and the land’s relationship to us. In healing the land, we are healing ourselves.

The presentation was recorded and is available at (Note: the speakers start at the 10:10 mark).

A small group of UUSA members who attended the talk or watched the video met recently to discuss our impressions of her message and how we could be more involved in ecological restoration of our patch of the earth. We asked ourselves questions that may be relevant for the UUSA community to discuss, such as:

  • What would it mean for us to give back to the land? 
  • What actions could we take that demonstrate meaningful reciprocity?
  • Could we establish ceremonies or rituals that would help us deepen our attention to the land and our intentions to restore it?
  • Could we partner with groups representing indigenous people, such as the Nolumbeka Project?
  • How can we bring awareness of local indigenous cultures, such as by adopting historical indigenous names of places in our community?
  • Shall we support the return of the land of the New England Small Farms Institute to on Bay Road in Belchertown Native Americans?
  • Can we have compassionate conversations around these topics, ensuring that all voices are heard and valued, i.e. respecting our UU Principles?

These are just a few of the questions that we raised. We intend to reconvene to continue our exploration.

Though many of our gathering were members of the Green Sanctuary Committee, we want to open the conversation to anyone who is interested. If you’d like to join the conversation, email Jeff Clark (contact Lea in the office if you do not have access to our directory and need Jeff’s address).