Tipiskawi Pisim (Moon)
By Wilfred Buck, Researcher and Knowledge Keeper
Opaskwayak Cree Nation, Manitoba
Every culture on the face of the Earth sees the Moon in a very unique way and each has stories about the Moon and its various faces, that it shows us throughout the month.
Throughout the Americas, the Moon and the Sun were very central to the people’s lives. Both the Moon and the Sun held prominent places in the lives, beliefs, ceremonies and understandings of the people.
One aspect regarding the Moon was the passage of time. For most cultures in the Americas, the passage of time was noted with the cycle of the moons.
From the full Moon cycles, it was noted that certain things happened in the environment. The weather, plants, animals and temperature seemed to follow the cycles of the Moon. One of the patterns that became apparent was that there were 13 full moons that occurred before everything seemed to start all over again. Thus a 13 moon cycle was identified.
When Europeans made contact with the First Nations peoples of the Americas, it was evident that some Indigenous peoples followed a lunar calendar depicted on the back of a turtle’s shell. Turtle shells have 28 smaller outer edge scutes, representing the number of days from one full Moon to the next, and 13 larger central scutes, representing the 13 moon cycles. The turtle (Mikinak Ministik) held a special place in the various cultures of Indigenous people. One of the origins of the term Turtle Island is the lunar calendar.
Legends of the Northern Sky, a full-dome digital projection film. You can watch a trailer for the movie here:
The movie includes a number of stories, from Ocek the fisher to a story about the big hole in the sky, also known as Pleiades, the Seven Sisters. “The Pleiades are a very interesting group of stars,” Buck said. “When they’re talking about a hole in the sky, they’re referring to spatial anomalies, wormholes, they’re talking about alternate realities here.”
For the Haudenosaunee, the earth was created through the interplay of elements from the sky and waters.
The different Iroquoian-speaking peoples tell slightly different versions of the creation story, which begins with Sky Woman falling from the sky.
There is a large and glorious art work at the Canadian Museum showing this story.
Long before the world was created, there was an island in the sky inhabited by sky people. One day a pregnant sky woman drops through a hole created by an uprooted tree and begins to fall for what seems like eternity.
Coming out of darkness, she eventually sees oceans. The animals from this world congregate, trying to understand what they see in the sky. A flock of birds is sent to help her. The birds catch her and gently guide her down onto the back of Great Turtle. The water animals like otter and beaver have prepared a place for her on turtle’s back. They bring mud from the bottom of the ocean and place it on turtle’s back until solid earth begins to form and increase in size.
Turtle’s back becomes Sky Woman’s home and the plants she’s brought down with her from Skyworld, including tobacco and strawberries, are her medicine. She makes a life for herself and becomes the mother of Haudenosaunee life, as we know it today.
The Oneida Indian Nation is an indigenous nation of American Indian people whose sacred and sovereign homelands are located in what is now called Central New York State, United States of America.
You can learn more about this nation at www.oneidaindiannation.com
The Haudenosaunee have always recognized that people are complex, possessing both good and bad qualities. The Creation story serves as a reminder: no human is flawless– the Great Spirit alone is perfect.
Keller George, Wolf Clan Member of the Nation’s Council, recounts a story his maternal great-grandmother told him about the birth of the Evil Spirit and the Good Spirit.
Indigeous stories – podcast from CBC radio – Reframing the way we look at the sky
Well worth a listen. As stated on their web site, “Long nights are perfect for looking up at the stars, and that’s exactly what we’re doing on Unreserved this week.” From Indigenous astronomy to the first Indigenous astronaut, find out how Indigenous people are reframing the way we look at the sky.
When you think about the night sky, what constellations come to mind? Chances are they’re rooted in Western astronomy. But Indigenous astronomy and scientific knowledge have been here for millennia. It just hasn’t been taught in schools, or considered important within universities. Hilding Neilson is working to change that. Neilson is Mi’kmaw and a professor in the department of astronomy and astrophysics at the University of Toronto.
When Sharon Shorty sees the northern lights, she recalls a story her grandmother told her.
Sandra Laronde created and directed Trace, a performance inspired by Anishinaabe sky and star stories. Laronde is the founder of Red Sky Performance, an Indigenous dance, theatre, and music company. Trace has been performed throughout Canada, and the international tour is scheduled to start in the fall of 2021.
Métis filmmaker ShaneBelcourt‘s latest film, Red Rover, is a romantic comedyabout the search for meaning through space travel. The film also makes connections between space exploration and colonization.
Chickasaw astronaut John Herrington was the first Native American to fly in space. And he’s dedicated much of his life to encouraging Indigenous kids to follow their dreams.
One of the music tracks in the show is “Sky Woman” performed by Anachnid. Here is a link to their performance on Youtube.
The Pleiades has many stories from many cultures. In the Blackfoot story, the Pleiades are orphans (“Lost Boys”) that were not cared for by the people, so they became stars. Sun Man is angered by the mistreatment of the children and punishes the people with a drought, causing the buffalo to disappear, until the dogs, the only friends of the orphans, intercede on behalf of the people. Because the buffalo are not available while the Lost Boys are in the skies, the cosmic setting of the Pleiades was an assembly signal for Blackfoot hunter to travel to their hunting grounds to conduct the large-scale hunts, culminating in slaughters at buffalo jumps, that characterized their culture.
Eldon Yellowhorn is a professor at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada. He was appointed to faculty at Simon Fraser University in 2002 and established the Department of First Nations Studies in 2012. He served as Chair from 2012–17 and he teaches courses dedicated to chronicling the experience of Aboriginal people across Canada. He is the past president of the Canadian Archaeological Association (2010–2012) and the first Aboriginal person to hold this title.
He shared this Blackfoot story and how it ties into specific astronomical events on the CBC radio program North by Northwest on November 21 2021. He has written several books for children that are highly recommended.