May 25, 2020

Sky science and wayfinding in a good way

How ii’ taa’poh’to’p’s Intercultural Capacity Building Grants are constructing bridges with Indigenous youth

 Although we might not always think about how small we are compared to the universe, it is an excellent time to take stock of how much we think we know about day and night, timekeeping, and the seasons. Just try pointing north from wherever you are right now. Did you have to look at your phone?

For Jennifer Howse, education specialist at the Rothney Astrophysical Observatory (RAO), and recipient of one of 2019’s Intercultural Capacity Building Grants from ii’ taa’poh’to’p, UCalgary’s Indigenous Strategy, observations of the planets and sky is a daily occurrence. Howse leads the Wayfinding Under Blackfoot Skies project at the RAO, and her grant opportunity has allowed her to incorporate Indigenous ways of knowing, doing, connecting, and being into her educational programming.

Wayfinding Under Blackfoot Skies project

Wayfinding is an opportunity for Indigenous youth to discover their space amongst the cosmos as well as a “unique opportunity to blend modern astronomical navigational concepts with traditional Indigenous ways of knowing,” says Howse.

Traditional knowledge keepers and the wisdom they provide are also an integral part of the traditional knowledge process at the RAO. Stories are fundamental to Indigenous teaching methods, particularly the use of metaphor.

The interaction between youth and Indigenous traditional knowledge keepers is also fundamental to teaching and learning, as knowledge keepers often share Indigenous ways of knowing through intergenerational oral traditions that have been passed down from time immemorial.

Tsuu tina students

With the help of the Intercultural Capacity Building Grant, about 2,000 youth have participated in the Wayfinding Under Blackfoot Skies project. Combining science, culture and generational wisdom achieves intercultural capacity because it demonstrates the beginning of an ongoing dialogue through astronomy between the university and the wider Indigenous communities.

A major focus of the project was figuring out how to incorporate a transformative Indigenous aspect into the process of learning Astronomy, or as Howse likes to call it, “sky science.”

“It is an opportunity to engage Indigenous students to come to the observatory, and in this way, it functions as a bridge so that Indigenous youth can see themselves in an academic environment comfortably and feel that they belong.”

Howse adds that “sometimes Indigenous Peoples do not always see themselves as a part of the university and therefore don’t get to hear about the opportunities that the university has for Indigenous Peoples.” 

ii’ taa’poh’to’p, the University of Calgary’s Indigenous Strategy, is a commitment to deep evolutionary transformation by reimagining ways of knowing, doing, connecting and being. Walking parallel paths together, ‘in a good way,’ UCalgary will move towards genuine reconciliation and Indigenization.