Today’s post comes from Bruce Waters, former McLaughlin Planetarium educator and founder of the Killarney Provincial Park Observatory.
Astronomy is a field of science that embraces an inquiring mind and knows that there are often many perspectives from which to learn, study, and appreciate the cosmos and beyond.
In this International Year of Indigenous Languages, Ontario Parks was fortunate to host a truly amazing event featuring astronomy and Indigenous cultural learning.
“[This] The event was a great example of how collaborations that are based on mutual respect can foster and support true Reconciliation,” said Wikwemikong Tourism Manager Luke Wassegijig.
As with the officially recognized “Greek” constellations, there are different animals and heroes to appreciate within the indigenous understanding.
In the words of Ojibwe elder Carl Gawboy, from whose research much of our knowledge about the Anishinaabek constellations comes, “[How could anyone] Hike, canoe, ice fish, hunt or even pick berries under a sky made up of crabs, lions, rams, goats and scorpions? (referring to the official constellations).
The event was held in Killarney Provincial Park with presentations by elders and guides from Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory, Wikwemikong Tourism and Point Grondine Park (kudos to Naomi Mishibinijima of Wikwimikong Tourism who helped greatly in organizing the numerous elders and guides). ! Will Morin, professor of Indigenous studies at the University of Sudbury, was a key organizer and presenter. We were also privileged to have Waasa Naabin Youth Center as very enthusiastic guests.
Acknowledging the land and welcoming guests.
The day began with a welcome from Luke Wassegijig.
This was followed by an introduction to basic Anishinaabek principles by elder and knowledge keeper Brian Peltier, with support from Professor Will Morin.
Our guide, Steven Antoine, beautifully sang a traditional welcome song. Everyone in attendance was deeply moved by his incredible voice and the pride behind the music.
A new perspective on a favorite hike
After lunch, there was a guided hike along the beautiful Granite Ridge Trail led by Point Grondine guides Steven Antoine and Tyrone Debassige and Ontario Parks Discovery Leader Michelle Lawrence. They explained the importance of the land and fauna to the indigenous way of life.
Photo: Jenna Hinds, Royal Astronomical Society of Canada
Ciencia Norte joins the festivities
Those who signed up for the Science North portion of the Stars over Killarney event enjoyed a tour of Polaris Boulevard (complete with a huge sundial), learned how to use a planisphere, and watched Science North’s award-winning Minwaadiziwin show in its Planetarium.
Dr. Olathe MacIntyre guides participants down Polaris Boulevard to a massive sundial
Later, four Science North Bluecoats (science educators), led by Dr Olathe MacIntyre and Lucie Robillard, brought a busload of visitors to Killarney Provincial Park for the observatory’s naming ceremony.
In recognition of the land, Killarney’s observatories are named Anishinaabemowin.
Late in the afternoon, Killarney Provincial Park was honored to have the Elders reveal the formal names of our two observatories.
It was decided that, to honor the land on which the two observatories were built, the observatories would be named Anishinaabemowin, something we believe is a first for North America!
Here are the new names (pronounced by Madeline Wemigwans):
Great observatory: Kchi Waasa Debabing (g-CHEH WAH-suh De-BAH-bing), which means “See far away (as far as the eye can see)”
Small observatory: this debabing (WAH-suh De-BAH-bing), meaning “See far (as far as the eye can see)”
Understanding creation to understand the night sky
After dinner, more than 200 participants listened, enthralled, to the Anishinaabek creation story told by Brian Peltier. His amazing explanation helped provide a very detailed and rich context for what was to come.
Professor Will Morin gave a passionate discussion of Anishinaabek astronomy based on the books. Ojibwe Sky Star Map and Talking sky. Like Brian, he connected the elements of creation to those of the Anishinaabek constellations. The audience was able to enjoy a rich understanding between the language and the story elements portrayed in the constellations.
Visitors then traveled through our 1:2 billion scale model solar system on a self-guided walk to Saturn (700m away). Then they arrived at the observation field, where the park’s two observatories and another 15 telescopes on various objects were installed.
These 15 telescopes were installed by volunteers from the Sudbury Center of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, as well as the Kitchener Waterloo Centre. Led by Linda Pulliah, volunteers spent many hours with event visitors showing them the incredible sights.
Will Morin projected the indigenous constellations on a temporary screen while, at the same time, they were pointed out in the night sky to the 250 attendees who had now gathered in the observatories.
A call to Rachel Mantas and the Friends of Killarney Park who provided refreshments and educational material on Indigenous astronomy late into the night.
The event concluded shortly after 11:00 pm with everyone very happy about an incredible experience that had been rich in both culture and developing a greater understanding of the beauty of the night sky. All done within a spirit of collaboration, respect and reconciliation!
A special thank you to Superintendent Jeremy Pawson and Deputy Superintendent Shawn Spencer, as well as Discovery Leader Michelle Lawrence, who worked tirelessly to make this event a huge success.
 Gawboy, C., & Morton, R.L. (2014). Talking sky: the Ojibwe constellations as a reflection of life on earth. Duluth, Minnesota: Rockflower Press.
 Lee, A.S., Wilson, W., Tibbetts, J., & Gawboy, C. (2014). Ojibwe Sky Star Map Constellation Guide: An Introduction to Ojibwe Star Knowledge. St. Cloud, MN: Native Skywatchers.