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R.B. Russell students enhance Indigenous star stories

May 27, 2024 News Story
WSD - RB Russell - Sky Teachings

Students at R.B. Russell Vocational High School are learning to see the night sky through an Indigenous lens. 

Cree star gazer Wilfred Buck recently visited R.B. Russell to share an Indigenous perspective on astronomy and star lore. The author of Kitcikisik (Great Sky): Tellings that Fill the Night Sky, Buck uses a portable planetarium to project his sky teachings. 

Prior to his visit, R.B. Russell graphic design teacher John Sobkovich tasked his students with creating animations for Buck’s sky teachings. On May 21, the student-created celestial animations were projected onto a mobile dome, as Buck guided students and staff through the universe. 

“Every culture on the face of the Earth went outside and looked up at the sky,” said Buck, who hails from Opaskwayak Cree Nation.   

“Every culture had their own people that studied the sky. They basically had their own astronomers. I’ve been watching the sky ever since I was very young, but I didn’t actively start researching it until about 2006. That’s when I started researching the sky from my peoples’ perspective.”

During his presentation, Buck pointed out the stars of the Big Dipper, an asterism consisting of the seven bright stars of the constellation Ursa Major. He told of multiple Indigenous interpretations of these stars, including Mista Muskwa (Great Bear) and Mistatim (Horse). 

He also spoke of a Cree constellation called Namew, a sturgeon-shaped collection of stars that includes some of the stars of Auriga, Perseus, and Andromeda. 

“It represents wahkohtowin, which means kinship,” Buck said. 

“We’re told there are 13 stars from tail to nose, but of those 13 there are seven main stars. Those seven main stars represent the generations. We’re told we’re at the centre of those generations. In front of us are our children, our grandchildren, and our great grandchildren and behind us are our parents, grandparents and great grandparents.” 

“These stars tie together our past and our future and we are part of that time continuum, passing on our knowledge, our bloodlines, and our family responsibilities. We are at the centre of that.”

R.B. Russell students Kahlea, JM and Joseph contributed their graphic design skills to the sky teachings. 

“I really enjoyed animating the constellations on Adobe Illustrator, and then we brought those into Adobe Premiere Pro and Adobe After Effects,” said Kahlea, a Grade 12 student. 

“I enjoyed working on it. It was a good experience and a good opportunity.”

Those astronomical animations will go far beyond R.B. Russell, as Buck takes his sky teachings throughout Canada. 

Sobkovich said he’s delighted that his students could contribute to such a meaningful project. 

“We have Indigenous elders that keep stories alive through oral history, but in this case it’s the youth that are helping keep the stories alive through new technologies,” Sobkovich said. 

“That’s what we’re trying to combine, blending Indigenous perspectives with new technologies.” 

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