Indigenous Knowledge & Youth Gathering – Revitalizing Star Knowledge

Paris, Ontario; 11-15 April 2019
Report from Robert Cockcroft (Western Science, Physics & Astronomy)


FNMIEAO poster for April 2019 events.

Love, support, and gratitude. These are the sentiments I was greeted with and within the framework of which – as students and educators (nearly all Indigenous; myself, one of the few non-Indigenous people present) – we worked at the event “Indigenous Knowledge & Youth Gathering – Revitalizing Star Knowledge”. These emotions are not a foreign part of my life, but it is unusual to include them in my university work as a physical scientist. Their inclusion at this Gathering was not at the expense of academic rigour; both were integrated to create one of the safest, most positive, and supportive learning environments I have ever experienced – and this was clearly visible in the development of students and the depth and breadth of their work and the relationships they formed over the few days they were together in Paris.

The event included a packed schedule; for the first three days with students, 06:30 until 21:30, and the fourth and fifth days with just the educators, 09:00 until 17:00. I had thought that the students might be too exhausted to engage – but they were the opposite: they were energized and even found reserves to stay up late into the evenings even with the early morning starts. When students want to learn and they are deeply supported to do so, they are capable of so much!

Jodie Williams, Co-Chair, First Nations, Métis and Inuit Education Association of Ontario and the Gathering’s organizer, was as indefatigable as the students. It was obvious that much work had occurred before this event began: Jodie coordinated everyone’s schedules to bring a diverse group of people together, and then built spaces for learning to occur throughout the five days – including hosting a portable planetarium. (I personally know how hard this is from having hosted just a two-day workshop earlier in the year.) Students, educators, and Elders shared all meals together throughout the event. New bonds formed and existing ones were strengthened between all who were present as we learnt about and experienced different topics. Some of the highlights included the following:

  • Navajo and NASA collaboration, shared by Dana Desiderio and Daniella Scalice An overview of the 15+ year education and outreach collaborative programs with an in-depth demonstration of a two-hour interactive card activity weaving together science, culture, and the Navajo language
  • Indigenous technologies and design, shared by Juan Carlos Chavez Students explored how to use programmable robots in the context of fishing traps, and we learnt about an atmospheric balloon ascent designed, launched and captured on video by Indigenous students during the 2017 total eclipse
  • Maori arts and education, shared by Te Kahuratai Painting, Mitchell Hughes and Hohepa Hei
    An incredibly inspiring introduction to the Maori school system, culture, art and
    science – especially Maori astronomy, including celestial navigation, lunar
    phases, constellations and meridian piers, and calendrical systems.

The Gathering began and ended with sharing circles, guided by Elders Isaac Day and Deborah Aaron – who also greeted us and shared with us every morning at the sunrise ceremonies.

I am humbled, grateful, and motivated. I am humbled by how much I learnt in just the short time span of five days and how much I have yet to learn. I am grateful for being included in all the events – I am not Indigenous and yet I was included in every way – in an excellent example of what education can look like in a decolonized framework. And I am motivated – to keep working in collaboration with Indigenous peoples on Indigenous astronomy and reconciliation.

Dr Robert Cockcroft is an assistant professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Western University which is located on the traditional territories of the Anishinaabe, the Haudenosaunee, the Leni-Lunaape, and the Attawandaron Peoples. He currently works with Indigenous students-as-partners, colleagues and allies for reconciliation and decolonization, and to increase both Indigenous content and representation. With Sasha Doxtator and Brianne Derrah, he is helping create a new Indigenous astronomy course and outreach program.