As we face an ever-more-fragmented world, What Kind of Ancestor Do You Want to Be? demands a return to the force of lineage – to spiritual, social, and ecological connections across time. It sparks a myriad of ageless-yet-urgent questions: How will I be remembered? What traditions do I want to continue? What cycles do I want to break? What new systems do I want to initiate for those yet-to-be-born? How do we endure? Published in association with the Center for Humans and Nature and interweaving essays, interviews, and poetry, What Kind of Ancestor Do You Want to Be? brings together a thoughtful community of Indigenous and other voices – including Linda Hogan, Wendell Berry, Winona LaDuke, Vandana Shiva, Robin Kimmerer, and Wes Jackson – to explore what we want to give to our descendants. It is an offering to teachers who have come before and to those who will follow, a tool for healing our relationships with ourselves, with each other, and with our most powerful ancestors – the lands and waters that give and sustain all life.
Poem: Unsigned Letter to a Human in the 21st Century / Jamaal May
I. Embedded: Our ancestral responsibility is deeply rooted in a multigenerational relationship to place.
a. Poem: Great Granddaddy / Taiyon Coleman
i. Ancestor of Fire / Aaron A. Abeyta
ii. Grounded / Aubrey Streit Krug
iii. My Home / It’s Called the Darkest Wild / Sean Prentiss
c. Interview: Wendell Berry / Leah Bayens
d. Poem: To the Children of the 21st Century / Frances H. Kakugawa
II. Reckoning: Reckoning with ancestors causing and ancestors enduring historical trauma.
a. Poem: Forgiveness? / Shannon Gibney
i. Sister’s Stories / Eryn Wise
ii. Of Land and Legacy / Lindsay Lunsford
iii. Cheddar Man / Brooke Williams
iv. Formidable / Kathleen Dean Moore
c. Interview: Caleen Sisk / Brooke Parry Hecht and Toby McLeod
d. Poem: Promises, Promises / Frances H. Kakugawa
III. Healing: Enhancing some ancestral cycles while breaking others.
a. Poem: To Future Kin / Brian Calvert
i. Moving with the Rhythm of Life / Katherine Kassouf Cummings
ii. (A Korowai) For When You Are Lost / Manea Sweeney
iii. To Hope of Becoming Ancestors / Princess Daazhraii Johnson and Julianne Warren
c. Interview: Camille T. Dungy and Crystal Williams
d. Poem: Yes I Will / Frances H. Kakugawa
IV. Interwoven: Our descendants will know the kind of ancestor we are by reading the lands and waters where we lived.
a. Poem: Alive in This Century / Leora Gansworth
i. What Is Your Rice? / John Hausdoerffer
ii. Restoring Indigenous Mindfulness within the Commons of Human Consciousness / Jack Loeffler
iii. Reading Records with Estella Leopold / Curt Meine
iv. How to Be Better Ancestors / Winona LaDuke
c. Interview: Wes Jackson / John Hausdoerffer and Julianne Lutz Warren
d. Poem: Omoiyare / Frances H. Kakugawa
V. Earthly: Other-than-human beings are our ancestors, too.
a. Poem: LEAF / Elizabeth Herron
i. The City Bleeds Out (Reflections on Lake Michigan) / Gavin Van Horn
ii. I Want the Earth to Know Me as a Friend / Enrique Salmón
iii. The Apple Tree / Peter Forbes
iv. Humus / Catroina Sandilands
v. Building Good Soil / Robin Kimmerer
c. Interview: Vandana Shiva / John Hausdoerffer
d. Poem: Your Inheritance / Frances H. Kakugawa
VI. Seventh Fire
a. Poem: Time Traveler / Lyla June Johnston
i. Seeds / Native Youth Guardians of the Waters 2017 Participants and Nicola Wagenberg
ii. Onëö’ (Word for Corn in Seneca) / Kaylena Bray
iii. Landing / Oscar Guttierez
iv. Regenerative / Melissa K. Nelson
v. Nourishing / Rowen White
vi. Light / Rachel Wolfgramm and Chellie Spiller
c. Interview: Ilarion Merculieff / Brooke Parry Hecht
d. Poem: Lost in the Milky Way / Linda Hogan
About the Contributors
John Hausdoerffer is dean of the School of Environment & Sustainability at Western Colorado University. Most recently, he is co-editor of Wildness: Relations of People and Place. He lives in living in Gunnison, CO. Brooke Parry Hecht is president of the Center for Humans and Nature. Melissa K. Nelson (Anishinaabe/Metis [Turtle Mountain Chippewa]) is a professor of Indigenous sustainability at Arizona State University and president of the Cultural Conservancy, a Native-led Indigenous rights organization. Most recently, she is co-editor of Traditional Ecological Knowledge: Learning from Indigenous Practices for Environmental Sustainability. Katherine Kassouf Cummings serves as managing editor at the Center for Humans and Nature and leads Questions for a Resilient Future.
"Consisting of a stunning array of essays, poems, and interviews, this collection makes the case that the actions and perspectives of a single person can have a ripple effect across generations of people and nature [...] Recommended for readers interested in environmentalism, anthropology, sociology, history, philosophy, and Indigenous peoples in the United States."
– Library Journal
"A wonderfully unclassifiable book, What Kind of Ancestor Do You Want to Be? challenges us to live not just for tomorrow, or for our children, but for many generations in the future. Featuring interviews with and essays by thinkers from across social disciplines – anthropologists, environmental activists, Indigenous leaders, sociologists, and more."
– Book Culture Blog
"What Kind of Ancestor Do You Want to Be? explores the challenge of climate disruption and ecological disaster through poems, essays and interviews. By offering diverse responses from a worldly selection of multicultural voices, the book provokes examination and inspiration. At the same time, the collection delivers no easy answers. Instead, the responses are personal and detailed, thick with values and reflection."
– Gunnison Country Times
"What Kind of Ancestor Do You Want to Be? captures the deep dialogue, continuity, and resonance Indigenous peoples feel and espouse for ancestors, ourselves, our children – with a view for the now and for our very uncertain future. And yet, its audience is at once Indigenous and Universal. Weaving poetry, narrative, interview, essay, and spirit, it is a unique, landmark tapestry. Utterly timely and profoundly urgent."
– Gregory Cajete, author of Native Science: Natural Laws of Interdependence
"The questions this book raises are of such staggering importance and relevance today. I cried. I laughed. I smiled. Many reading moments, beautiful or tragic or just deeply human, are difficult to forget."
– Jeffrey J. Kripal, author of The Flip: Epiphanies of Mind and the Future of Knowledge