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Understanding Indigenous Culture in North Dakota Series: Star Knowledge

Our most recent post regarding December 21 Winter Solstice discussed the connection indigenous people have with the cosmos to include the planets, the sun, and the moon. There is a very special relationship that indigenous people have with another part of the cosmos, the stars.

We Come from the Stars”- Canadian First Nation Ininew (Cree) Wilfred Buck

“All human beings from all over the earth, all of human history, had a connection to the stars,” says Annette S. Lee (mixed-race Dakota Sioux woman), a professor of astronomy at St. Cloud State University.

There is a significant importance in knowing star and other traditional stories for indigenous people. This knowledge provides imperative life lessons about ancestral morality, values, traditional ways of living and thinking and an indigenous community’s practices and beliefs. Through this knowledge, there is a strength and connection that is created and fostered to the natural world, and naturally one’s indigenous ancestors and traditions. A living and participatory relationship with the above and below, sky and earth, so that indigenous people can regain, continue and enhance their sustainable ways is the primary goal of star knowledge.

A traditional way most tribes utilize astronomical knowledge was and is through star maps. These maps are memory aids for navigating overland routes to important cultural locations and ceremonies. While finding the best route from point a to point b (of which was tens, hundreds or even thousands of miles) to include the best places to stop for shelter, food, water and medicine, Indigenous people would utilize notable patterns of bright stars as way points. While not exact representations of the route, the relationship between the location of a star to other stars and corresponding landscape features, were a way to encode all the information about the journey to memory and pass it on to others within the tribe and the next generation. The stars and the corresponding geographical features allowed for travel during the daylight as well as at night.

Red Basket, Dr. Kathy Froelich, an MHA elder and CREA Indigenous Culture Coordinator suggests this classroom activity to educators: “We are more alike than we are different.”

Goal: Students will learn that all cultures use Star Knowledge as a guide in their lives. Students will identify at least two constellations and be able to recreate them using various media.

Step 1 – Students will view the videos The Star Boy and the Seven Sisters by Lakota Elder Duane Hollow Horn Bear and Dakota Star Knowledge -- "We Come From The Stars".

Step 2 – Students will identify the common name for the Three Sisters constellation.

Step 3 – Students will research at least 2 other constellations.

Step 4 – Students will recreate the 2 constellations using art materials provided by the teacher (air dry clay, toothpicks and small marshmallows, paint, chalk, crayons, etc.).

· Wilfred Buck: The Story of Grandmother Spider and Star Woman

· Native Skywatchers Home

· Publications – Hilding Neilson, Astronomer

· Relearning The Star Stories Of Indigenous Peoples (

· Stories | ZhaawanArt Blog

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