Chapter 2 Observing the Sky: The Birth of Astronomy

2.3 Astronomy of the First Nations of Canada

Here is a very small start to share some of the wealth of knowledge about astronomy and the seasons of the First Nations of Canada.  As I type this in August 2107 I wish to acknowledge that is is a token of the rich culture and encourage sharing of information on this important topic.

Truth and Reconciliation

Canada is beginning a journey of Truth and Reconciliation. As it says on the official website (link here for more information )  (”Born from the vision of Chief Dr. Robert Joseph, Gwawaenuk Elder, Reconciliation Canada is leading the way in engaging Canadians in dialogue and transformative experiences that revitalize the relationships among Indigenous peoples and all Canadians. Our model for reconciliation engages people in open and honest conversation to understand our diverse histories and experiences. We actively engage multi-faith and multi-cultural communities to explore the meaning of reconciliation. Together, we are charting a New Way Forward.”

British Columbia:  Nisga’a Hobiyee (Crescent Moon in February)

This information is gathered from the Nisga’a Nation’s web site. (     The Halayt is often referred to as a spiritual leader, medicine man or doctor—the Swaîiskw, or Swaîisgwit; some were also described as “having the ability to forecast the weather” hence astronomers and astrologists, the Guxw-Hloksit.  The Halayt-Simgigat studied the Buxw-laks moon, the moon of February, and they made note of the different shapes leading up to the full moon. Over time, 3 they observed that whenever the first crescent moon (thin-shaped) is in the shape of the Hoobix – the bowl of the Nisga’a wooden spoon with the ends pointing upward, this meant abundant resources in the harvesting seasons to follow in K’alii-Aksim Lisims (the Nass Valley). The oolichans would be plentiful, the salmon … berries … and various other resources important to the Nisga’a; all in all, a bountiful year predicted.

As it states at the start of the document from which the above information is quoted, “the oral tradition, the information as contained in this document is by no means conclusive. Nonetheless, this documented information is about a very significant aspect of our Nisga’a way of life which by our Ayuuk – customs and laws – is to be treated with RESPECT. To the young ones, be careful in how you use or interpret information when you hear it. Ensure that you fully understand what is being transmitted to you.”  Know that this particular information belongs to the Nisga’a nation. Aamhl Sayt-K’yoolims Gatguë gans dip îisië. May we be one / united as a people. Transcribed and edited by: Ksim Sook’/Nita Morven, Researcher-Ayuukhl Nisga’a Dept. Nisga’a Lisims Government


Nova Scotia:  Mi’kmaq Sky Story:  Muin and the Seven Bird Hunters

As part of the 2009 International Year of Astronomy, Muin and the Seven Bird Hunters, a traditional sky story which has been handed down from generation to generation as part of the rich oral history of the Mi’kmaq First Nation was shared with the rest of Canada. 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 from the realm of oral tradition into video and made accessible to such a large audience.

On January 8th 2009, an animated version of the story was premiered at the Canadian Science and Technology Museum in Ottawa. Versions are now available in English, French and Mi’kmaq to people around the world! The Mi’kmaq version, with an English introduction, can be viewed here (


The story of Muin has been brought to life thanks to the loving work of Mi’kmaq Elder Lillian Marshall (bio of Potlotek First Nation (in Cape Breton, NS)  and Mi’kmaq Elder Murdena Marshall (bio of Eskasoni First Nation (in Cape Breton, NS), in conjunction with (artist Sana Kavanagh of Cape Breton University in Sydney, NS. The two Elders narrated the English and Mi’kmaq versions of the film, while the French version was narrated by Annabelle Welsh, a Grade 12 student from Membertou First Nation (in Cape Breton, NS) who attends Étoile de l’Acadie in Sydney. The production was made possible through the support of CBU’s Canada Research Chair in Integrative Science, Dr. Cheryl Bartlett (full credits

It is hoped that this rich and vibrant story will help encourage other efforts to revitalize Aboriginal night sky stories across Canada. In this way, the richness of knowledge within the Indigenous sciences in Canada can be celebrated and, as deemed appropriate, shared… becoming legacies for children and youth of all ages as well as adults, long after the International Year of Astronomy 2009 is over.


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BCIT Astronomy 7000: A Survey of Astronomy Copyright © 2017 by OpenStax is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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