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What Kind of Ancestor Do You Want to Be?

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, this book 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.

248 pages | 3 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2021

Biological Sciences: Conservation, Ecology, Natural History

Earth Sciences: Environment


"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

"This compendium of poems, essays, and dialogues contains the voices of a range of writers and speakers from widely disparate cultures, traditions, and ethnicities, speaking out as they grapple with this question. The question itself causes one to pause, containing, as it does, an implicit instruction to consider one’s own ancestors and their/our relationship with the future. Who were they and what has their impact been upon ourselves and the world? How should or might we, ourselves, carry their influence into the future, while adding the work of our own lives to that stream?"

"This volume edited by Hausdoerffer, Hecht, Nelson, and Cummings incorporates the work of 47 contributors addressing the urgent and central concern of establishing spiritual, social, and ecological continuity in this uncertain age. Employing diverse textual strategies and genres, including essays, ethnographic interviews, and poems, these authors are intent on communicating the understanding and reactions of indigenous people to the problem of providing guidance to future generations. Arguing that the world is currently in the throes of an ecological, economic, and political crisis, this study invites readers to seek essential new wisdom by exploring the traditional wisdom of indigenous ancestors, so as to embrace the role of "ancestor" in the present. . . .Highly recommended."


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"

Table of Contents


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

b. Essays: 
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

b. Essays: 
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

b. Essays:
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

b. Essays:
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

b. Essays:
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

b. Essays: 
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

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