Lowell Observatory and Grand Canyon take a glimpse into native constellation storytelling

Tribe members are usually the only ones who can share these stories, but the public will get a rare glimpse into this history.
Published: Nov. 13, 2023 at 5:55 PM MST
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FLAGSTAFF, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) - Every winter for generations, indigenous communities look to the skies and tell stories about their past and present through constellations. Tribe members are usually the only ones who can share these stories, but the public will get a rare glimpse into this history on Wednesday.

The dark skies over the Grand Canyon and Flagstaff offer a view of the night sky that not many get to experience. “Over 80% of people living in the United States can’t see the Milky Way from where they live, so a lot of people don’t get to experience the dark skies very often,” said Caity Varian, Marketing Manager for Grand Canyon Conservancy.

For centuries, indigenous communities looked to the sky for guidance, using constellations to navigate, farm, and connect spiritually. In honor of Native American Heritage Month, Lowell Observatory and the Grand Canyon Conservancy are partnering with astronomers from the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah to honor that deep connection between native culture and the dark skies.

“Indigenous Science or TEK (Traditional Ecological Knowledge) stands on equal footing with westernized science; they are one and the same,” remarks Autumn Gillard, representative from the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah and headlining guest for the upcoming livestream event. “To me, understanding the universe and our connection to the sky is not just about scientific inquiry—it’s a means of connecting with my heritage and embracing my identity as a native woman.”

The livestream starts at 8 p.m. on Wednesday. People will have the opportunity to ask questions about the stories, but it’s important to note not all stories will be shared for the respect of the tribe. “Lowell will be displaying the stream, they will show what they are displaying from their telescopes live, and then autumn will be talking about different things in the sky,” Varian said. “She typically talks about Jupiter or Saturn, the moon, the Milky Way, and several other objects in the night sky.”

Their goal is to showcase not only the beauty of protected dark skies but also, for many tribe members, a way to connect their heritage and history. “Trying to elevate the indigenous voices that come from the 11 different tribes that call Grand Canyon home,” Varian said. “So we like to do that both at the park, but also these virtual opportunities are really cool to be able to learn and hear directly from indigenous voices to tell their stories, to share their culture, to share their heritage.”

You can watch the live stream on YoutubeLinkedIn, or Facebook.

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