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Book Reviews

The Earth’s Blanket: Traditional Teaching for Sustainable Living

by Nancy J. Turner

While the fate of the environment appears bleaker with each new report about global warming or water pollution, there are still those working on the front lines who refuse to subscribe to the notion that ecological catastrophe is inevitable. Among those is B.C. ethnobotanist Nancy J. Turner, who believes that models of First Nations stewardship and reverence for nature might yet save us from our rampant overconsumption and disregard for the delicate balance that sustains life on earth.

The Earth’s Blanket serves both as a natural tour through one of the most biologically diverse areas of the planet and a primer on the native wisdom which has managed to sustain human communities for thousands of years without major disruptions to the natural habitat. It’s a good reminder of the radically different views of nature: Europeans and their colonizing descendants see only potential lumber windfalls in a stand of cedar that to native people would be a living pharmacy of resins and oils capable of curing many common maladies.

While Turner is certainly well informed and passionate about her subject, her combination of oral history, personal observation, and scientific discovery is an information-packed journey that sometimes gets bogged down in the kind of details that might better have found a home in a footnotes section. Turner also tends to annoy with her unnecessary but eager self-insertion into the story, introducing many anecdotes by reminding us that the storyteller she quotes is a good friend.

The book’s noble intention is to explore and educate readers about sustainability models rooted in the traditional practice of native peoples the world over. But apart from offering three brief examples of First Nations wisdom and environmental restoration that have helped replenish scarred areas of B.C., the book contains far more reverence and awe than practical guide.

Indeed, it is unclear how a shared reverence of nature can be applied to a downtown setting where many folks cannot afford to drop their urban worries and commune with nature. Turner’s thesis could have been much stronger had she drawn some links to the city dwellers who, though concerned about the fate of the planet, often think they can only help the problem by putting out their weekly recycling box.