Indigenous knowledge keepers teach others to look to the stars

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Indigenous knowledge keepers teach others to look to the stars's Profile


Two traditional knowledge keepers say that looking up at the stars in the night sky will help ground Indigenous people in who they are.

“Our teachings, our lives are up there . . . all our lodges are up there, all our clan systems are up there. And when we go home, that’s where we go home to,” said Douglas Sinclair.

Sinclair is an Anishinaabe knowledge keeper from the Ojibways of Onigaming in northwestern Ontario and has been trying to learn as much as he can about constellations and astronomy from a First Nations perspective.

“That knowledge is so powerful and you . . . just get a taste of it and you want more,” said Sinclair.

Recently he travelled to Libau, Man., about 50 kilometres north of Winnipeg, for a three-day event called Tipis and Telescopes organized by his friend Wilfred Buck, a Cree astronomer who has authored two books about Indigenous star perspectives.

Wilfred Buck and Douglas Sinclair help assemble a telescope. (Lenard Monkman/CBC)

Buck said it’s important for him to teach Indigenous youth about the stars in the night sky because it not only helps people with directions, but also their identity. 

“It’s a very basic understanding. If you understand that sky, you know exactly where you are, when you are and who you are,” said Buck, who is from Opaskwayak Cree Nation in Manitoba.

He said it’s important to combine western science with traditional knowledge and encourages people to get out of the classroom and onto the land when it comes to learning about the sky.

“Anishinaabe people, Ininew people, Siksika people, Lakota people, all these people, they’re immersed in their reality and they don’t separate themselves from their reality,” said Buck.

In his teachings, Buck said everything that happens in the world is interconnected, and that includes the stars in the sky.

“Everything is seen as a whole and that’s how everything’s taken,” said Buck. 

“We can’t just compartmentalize and look at one little star, and talk about that little star . . . because that little star affects everything else around it and it affects us. So it’s all related,” said Buck. 

Taylor Galvin, a fourth-year environmental studies student at the University of Manitoba, has been working with Buck for 10 years.

“I’ve heard many creation stories and a lot of them do start in the star world,” said Galvin.

As a self-proclaimed “space geek,” she said one of the important aspects for her own education was learning about the stars and constellations in the Cree and Anishinaabe languages.

Taylor Galvin is a self-professed ‘space geek’ who says scientists should be learning more from Indigenous knowledge keepers. (Kevin Nepitabo/CBC)

“Technically scientists should be learning from us, not the other way around,” said Galvin. 

“So I think our knowledge, which has been around for a lot longer, should be welcoming to science, not science being welcoming to traditional knowledge.”

Buck said he plans to host similar astronomy events in First Nations across the country, starting in Alberta next year.



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