Indigenous Skies

The Rothney Astrophysical Observatory is located under the starry skies of the traditional territories of the people of the Treaty 7 region, which includes the Blackfoot Confederacy (comprising the Siksika, Piikani, and Kainai First Nations), as well as the Tsuut’ina First Nation, and the Stoney Nakoda (including the Chiniki, Bearspaw, and Wesley First Nations). The foothills are also home to Métis Nation, Region III.

For thousands of years, humans have looked to the skies to understand our place in the universe. To make sense of the stars, different cultures looked up and identified shapes of stars patterns. Over time, these patterns were given meaning in the form of cultural stories or symbols. These culturally important star patterns are called constellations.

Canada's Indigenous people looked to the sky for guidance in practical endeavours but also spiritual identity. They look to the sky as a map, clock and calendar for thousands of years. The movement of celestial objects were observed and followed using the stars as a compass, for orientation and direction. Circumpolar stars are visible throughout the year in Canada and the star Polaris points the way north. The shifting positions of the constellations in the southern skies changed with the seasons. These constellations were carefully studied and woven into mythologies and stories that passed from generation to generation. Their memorable tales had pragmatic purposes too, such as knowing when to move from one camp to another.

Photo taken at the Rothney Astrophysical Observatory.

Trees and stars.

Traditional Indigenous Sky Stories

Sky stories from the Siksika of the Blackfoot and the Ininewuk of the Cree reflect a distinct philosophy about our place in the universe. These stories help guide relationships between individuals and the natural world. Memorable word-of-mouth stories have been an important tool for sharing and teaching knowledge and helped to retain information between generations. Traditional Ways of Knowing and astronomy knowledge are blended into stories that bind water, land, humans and animals into the regular rhythms of celestial movement.


Languages

Blackfoot and Cree perspectives regarding our place in the universe are reflected and symbolized in their languages. Siksikáí’powahsin (Blackfoot) is also highly descriptive. The languages evolved within the influence of the land and the perspective of the sky. Ininewuk (Cree) is a descriptive language - nouns do not exist without adjectives to describe and surround it. Siksikáí’powahsin and Ininewuk words are included in the traditional stories, recognizing that meaning, tone and cultural layers are missed by the translation to English. As with Siksikáí’powahsin and Ininewuk, the language of the Stoney-Nakota people also identifies objects as animate and inanimate and describes the night sky in symbols linked to the earth.

Photo taken at university event.

A young man looks through a telescope.

Telescopes

The evolution of lens manufacture, the development of the optics knowledge and experiments with telescope design allowed astronomers to focus on distant objects and see them in greater detail. Despite the huge improvements to telescopes and detectors in recent years, one fundamental fact stays the same: astronomers have to wait for light, originating from a distant star or galaxy, to travel across space and then collect that light with the telescope. The telescope allows you to see their celestial objects in greater detail and observe features with a different perspectives. The blend of cultural world views and scientific perspectives provides a more meaningful understanding of sky science.


Showcasing Indigenous Skylore

Explore sky stories and related constellations

The links below provide both International Astronomical Union constellation descriptions and the associated traditional Indigenous Sky Stories.


Orion

Wesakechak

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Milky Way Galaxy

Makoyoohsokoyi

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Ursa Minor

Atima Atchakosuk

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Gemini

Ashes Chief and Struck-behind

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Corona Borealis

Matootisan

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Moon

Cree moon origin story

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Venus

The woman who married morning star

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Cygnus

Imiihkayii

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Ursa Major

Ihkitsikammiksi

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Pleiades

The Lost Boys

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Cassiopeia

Ponoka

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