First Nations Skies of Alberta

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 First Nations people looked to the sky for guidance in practical endeavours and spiritual identity. They looked to the sky as a map, clock and calendar for thousands of years, using the stars as a compass, which provided orientation and direction. The best known example of this is the star Polaris, which points north. The shifting positions of the 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.

Mythology

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. Generally, mythologies of the sky feature stories that blend and bind water, land, humans and animals into the regular rhythms of celestial movement.


Languages

Siksika and Ininewuk perspectives regarding our place in the universe are reflected and symbolized in their languages. Ininewuk is a descriptive language - nouns do not exist without adjectives to describe and surround it. Siksika is also highly descriptive. The languages evolved within the influence of the land and the perspective of the sky. Blackfoot and Ininewuk words are included in the mythological stories, recognizing that meaning, tone and cultural layers are missed by the translation to English. As with Siksika 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 invention of the telescope in the 15th century 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 before viewing.

From the First Nations perspective, the telescope allows you to see their storied objects in greater detail and observe features with a scientific approach. The blend of cultural 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 First Nations mythology.


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 orphan boys

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Cassiopeia

Ponoka

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