Constellation chart and illustration by Alexander Jamieson.

Cygnus and Indigenous Skylore

Cygnus star chart.

Cygnus, the swan constellation is directly overhead and marks the passing the seasons. Deneb is a bright, supergiant star and its blue colours show its young age. Albireo, the bill of the swan, consists of two stars. The North American Nebula is a large cloud of hydrogen that is ionized by hot stars embedded within the nebula. The whole complex lies about 1800 light years away and spans 50 light years. The Veil Nebula is remnant of a supernova that exploded over 15000 years ago and is located a distance of 2500 light years from earth. Cygnus is used as a model of comparison in citizen science light pollution studies.


In Blackfoot tradition a story of Ksiistsikomm, Thunder is shared. He was jealous of a man and wanted his wife. He struck their lodge, knocked them unconscious, and stole the woman. When the man recovered he wandered all over, asking many animals to help him find his wife. All were afraid of Thunder. Finally, Omahkai’stoo, the raven, agreed to help. He flew to Thunder's home and challenged him.

Ksiistsikomm shot lightning bolts at Omahkai’stoo, trying to kill him. But Omahkai’stoo used his own power and, by flapping his wings, brought on the cold north wind and snow. Gradually, the cold slowed down Ksiistsikomm until he could no longer send out the dangerous bolts of lightning. It was a long battle, but eventually Ksiistsikomm gave up and returned the man's wife.

Omahkai’stoo insisted that he and Ksiistsikomm divide the year into two parts: winter and summer.

Omahkai’stoo also ordered Ksiistsikomm to make a peace treaty with the man and to give our people his pipe as a sign of this agreement. Since that day, we have opened our thunder medicine pipe bundles each spring at the first sound of thunder. We ask for good weather, good crops and good luck for the coming year.