TEBBUTT | Robin’s Song

Ever since surviving my first winter here in Ithaca, I have learned to recognise the song of the robin (Turdus migratorius) as a welcome signal of spring. The warm trills vie with the sun to chase the snowdrifts back up and over the lakes, clearing the way for the brighter days to come. By Halloween, however, most have long stopped singing as they save their energy for the cold months ahead. Yet, as November’s first flurries started to settle on the Ag Quad, many of us gathered to hear the voice of another Robin bring light and warmth to a dark time of the year.

There was chatter and excitement as people filled the chairs, floor and tables of a Warren Hall lecture theater to listen to Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer speak on Engaging Indigenous Knowledge For Land Care. A scientist and member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, Dr. Kimmerer was introduced by faithkeeper and Cornell Research Associate Stephen Henhawk. He spoke in his first language of Gayogohó:nǫˀ (Cayuga), the sovereign Nation whose ongoing presence in the Finger Lakes precedes the establishment of the University, New York state and the United States of America.

This was a powerful start to a talk that drew out the undeniable connections between colonial attitudes to the People and landscapes of America, resulting in the widespread attrition of the continent’s cultural and ecological communities. Certainly, centuries of blind faith in the superiority of an extractive and instrumental worldview sit at the root of so many of today’s social-ecological challenges, from the abundance of algal blooms suffocating Cayuga Lake to the lack of people able to understand Henhawk’s speech in the language of this very region.