Aboriginal Program

The Canadian Aboriginal Legacy Projects for IYA2009 are envisioned as a heritage of IYA2009 unique to Canada. Indeed, few of the 136 nations conducting IYA celebrations are planning Aboriginal components.   Our vision was conceived by the “Canadian Aboriginal Working Group” for IYA2009, who drew upon the many years of experience of the globally unique “Integrative Science” program at Cape Breton University, which is home to the Mi’kmaq College Institute.  The vision originated with Mi’kmaq Elders working with Canada Research Chair Prof. Cheryl Bartlett, and is shared by the Canadian national Executive Committee for IYA2009.  We have freely shared the vision with other Aboriginal Elders and individuals throughout Canada, and we would warmly welcome other participants and partners from the Aboriginal community at national, regional and local levels across the country.

The Aboriginal projects envisioned recognize the unique heritage of traditional ways of knowing about the universe, and address the risk that these ways of knowing, handed down orally for millennia, are in danger of disappearing along with the Aboriginal languages of those who hold the knowledge. IYA provides a unique opportunity to discover and celebrate that knowledge alongside that of modern science.  Three broad elements are proposed

Legacy Project No. 1:  “Uniting Elders and Youth Through Aboriginal Night Sky Stories”.  This project entails working collaboratively with Aboriginal communities and Knowledge Holders to gather and share Night Sky Stories from coast to coast to coast. It will highlight how such stories capture the holistic, relational nature of Aboriginal knowledges as they interconnect the night sky, the land beneath, and the people. These stories embed timeless understandings of natural ecosystems, which can help foster and reclaim Aboriginal values, strengths, and scientific understandings for healthy Aboriginal communities. This legacy envisions working with diverse stories from among Aboriginal peoples in Canada’s 15 different ecozones. Stories would be made available and shared as collective products (books and digital media) for use in educational facilities, public libraries and in the home.

To enable others to appreciate their vision for IYA 2009, Mi’kmaq Elders and Cape Breton University released in January 2009 a richly illustrated 25-minute video, Muin (the Great Bear) and the Seven Bird Hunters, narrated in English, French or Mi’kmaq. This sky story has been brought to life in a creative blending of art, modern technology and the oral teachings of Mi’kmaq Elders and may be viewed here. The story links the annual cycle of the seasons as observed by the Mi’kmaq with the movement of stars about the North Celestial pole.  This is the first time this story has been transferred into the realm of the visual arts.

Legacy Project No. 2:  “Respecting the Environment”.  This project entails the promotion of dark sky preserves within and by Aboriginal communities. The vision is to encourage and support Aboriginal communities to act to preserve areas near their communities that currently have little or no light pollution, and to promote these “dark sky” areas as an accessible cultural and scientific resource for community youth, today and in the future.  This project reinforces that Aboriginal peoples view the sky in a relationship of reciprocity with the earth, as captured in stories in which cultural skyscapes reflect ecological landscapes. As well, it will complement efforts towards dark sky preserves by Canada’s amateur and professional astronomers.

Legacy Project No. 3: “Creating Science Pathways”.  This project entails visual mapping (similar to the making of “constellations”) of educational pathways for Aboriginal children and youth plus those of any other age who wish to pursue dreams and career aspirations to become scientists. These maps will help interested Aboriginals to see and walk the path towards careers in science and technology. They will show how and why one must proceed from one educational context to another as one pursues a science education, understanding that these paths should respect and include both mainstream and Indigenous knowledges. It is our vision that visual maps of educational pathways will be widely available for use in schools, homes and in other institutions throughout Canada, and especially within Aboriginal communities.

Developing IYA 2009 projects with Canada’s Aboriginal peoples will require a careful, natural pace and we commit to it being a process meaningful to the Aboriginal communities, as their direction, ownership, and participation is paramount in sharing their knowledges of the night skies.  There are various approaches that could be used to bring these projects to life. For example, summer camps are envisioned as places where Elders, youth, educators and a few astronomers could come together to learn from each other, and thus to help implement within different communities these Legacy Projects. Participants will share their mutual fascination and delight in the night skies while learning about stories from traditional knowledges and modern astronomy. Such gatherings would result in much exchange of culture, values, education and connectedness through the sharing of Sky Stories. They would also promote awareness of the importance of Dark Sky Preserves for each young person to bring back to their communities, and help create understanding of pathways to careers in science and technology for Aboriginal youth.

Star Camp activities may be documented in film or video to be shared, as deemed appropriate by community and participants, with national and international audiences.  Another group in Nova Scotia has proposed that an Aboriginal Drama Group comprised of Aboriginal youth from all regions of Canada create a dance that could be taken throughout Canada to share such collective knowledge through a Living Theatre Production.  As conversations occur with Elders and Aboriginal leaders throughout Canada, other compelling ideas will likely emerge.

Developed and piloted during IYA 2009 and carried out in succeeding years by Canada’s Aboriginal peoples and their collaborating partners in the astronomy community, these projects would represent an exceptional contribution for and by Aboriginal communities, as well as for all Canadians, thereby representing a very powerful legacy of IYA 2009 in Canada.  We truly hope to collaborate with many and diverse partners from the Aboriginal community at national, regional and/or local levels across Canada, and thus we welcome all new inquiries in this regard.