Heron hunting for fish

Two Spirit Myths: Honorable Harvests [1]

Our teacher, Nanabozho, was fishing in the lake for his supper, as he often did, with hook and line. Heron came by striding along through the reeds on his long, bent legs, his beak like a spear. Heron is a good fisherman and a sharing friend, so he told Nanabozho about a new way to fish that would make his life much easier than the traditional methods.

Heron fishing, one at a time

Heron told him to consider weaving a net that looked like Grandmother Spider’s web. Then Heron advised him to be careful with the new methodology and cautioned him not to take too many fish from the lake, but Nanabozho was already thinking of a feast. He went out early the next day with his net and soon had a whole basketful of fish, so heavy he could barely carry it and far more than he could eat. So he cleaned all those fish and set them out to dry on the racks outside of his lodge. The next day, with his belly still full, he went back to the lake and again did what Heron has shown him. “Aaahhh,” he thought as he carried home the fish, “I will have plenty to eat this winter.”

Catch of fish in net

Day after day he stuffed himself and, as the lake grew empty, his drying racks grew full, sending out a delicious smell into the forest, where Fox was licking his lips. Again Nanabozho went to the lake so proud of himself. But that day his nets came up empty and heron looked down on him as he flew of over the lake with a critical eye. When he got home to his lodge, he learned a key rule — never take more than you need. The racks of fish were toppled in the dirt and every bite of dried fish was gone.

Fish drying rack

The lessons of the Honorable Harvest [2] reign supreme:

Know the ways of the ones (animal, mineral, vegetable) who take care of you, so in time that you may take care of them.

Introduce yourself. Be accountable at the one who comes asking for life.

Ask permission before taking. Abide by the answer.

Never take the first. Never take the last.

Take only what you need.

Take only that which is given.

Never take more than half. Leave some for others.

Harvest in a way that minimizes harm.

Use it respectfully. Never waste what you have taken.

Give a gift, in reciprocity for what you have taken.

Sustain the ones who sustain you and the earth will last forever.

The Honorable Harvest does not ask us to photosynthesize. It does not ask us Not To Take, but it offers inspiration and models for all of us what we SHOULD take. It’s not so much a list of “don’t’s” as a list of Do’s. DO eat food that is honorably harvested, and celebrate every mouthful. DO use technology that minimizes harm; DO take what is given.

This philosophy guides us not only our taking of food, but also taking of the gifts of Mother Earth — air, water, and the literal body of the earth: the rocks, the soil, the fossil fuels, the energy that lies within our grasp. Begin to have that deep understanding of renewable energies and renewable gifts from Mother Earth. Those lessons will last a lifetime and beyond.


[1] From Chapter by the same name in the book, Braiding Sweetgrass, by Robin Wall Kimmerer, Milkweed Editions, pages 175 – 201.

[2] The list of ways to have an honorable harvest is from nearly every native tribe in this country and the world. The Navajo and the Ojibwe, the Chinook and the Inuit, the Pima and the Comanche, the Aztec and the Iroquois … they all have their version of harvesting from the land.