Are you drawn to the night sky? I’ve read that stars and humans contain most of the elements, that we’ve received those elements through supernovas, so we are truly “star people.” Star Bill and Star Nikki enjoyed this summer’s spectacular NEOWISE comet and watched for Perseid meteor showers in August (but saw only 2 shooting stars this year).
Last summer I attended a class on Ojibwe and D/Lakota star-gazing to better appreciate the indigenous stories of the sky. Not only was it fun information, with resources I could follow up on, but we made planispheres! I came home with a Native Skywatchers chart for the Ojibwe sky, which complements the book “Ojibwe Sky Star Map Constellation Guide.”
Some stories about the constellations were only told in winter, when people were snuggled down in the wigwam, trying to keep warm. It was a special teaching time. Possibly some of the lore was shared with wintering French-Canadian voyageurs who visited to collect furs. Or maybe not.
Basic Ojibwe constellations include Fisher, Crane, Loon, Moose, Wintermaker, Curly Tail and Nanaboujou. Some match star groupings we know. (To hear the words spoken by Ojibwe speakers, visit the Ojibwe People’s Dictionary and type in the animal name in English or Ojibwe.)
These Ojibwe constellations are easy to find:
- The Fisher, Ojiig, is high in the sky. We know it as the Big Dipper.
- Loon, Maang, corresponds to our Little Dipper. It contains Polaris, so it’s always overhead.
- The Crane, Ajijaak, is Cygnus the Swan.
- The Hole in the Sky, or Bagone’giizhig, is what the we call Seven Sisters or Pleiades. It’s a spiritual doorway in Ojibwe ceremonies.
- Wintermaker is our Orion, with outstretched arms.
Carl Gawboy, Ojibwe artist, has connected the ancient pictographs at Hegman Lake in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness with star stories, and has identified Wintermaker, Moose and Fisher in the rock painting. All are visible in the late winter at that location.
With the autumnal equinox coming soon, Moose constellation will dominate the night sky through November. To find it, look for Pegasus (but upside down to the winged Greek horse). In the book “Talking Sky,” I read that when there are no more moose, there will be no more Ojibwe. Moose pictographs are also found on Lac Lacroix in the BWCAW.
The arms of Wintermaker, or Orion, stretch wide to include the head of Taurus on his right and Canis Minor on his left. Carl Gawboy tells the story of how Wintermaker was defeated by Duck, teaching the people how to live in cold times and places.
Also look for the Hole in the Sky, or Bagone’giizhig, (the Seven Sisters or Pleiades), which is a spiritual doorway in an Ojibwe ceremony.
The main spring constellation is Curly Tail (of the Great Underwater Panther, Mishi bizhiw). When Curly Tail was overhead, it was time for the Ojibwe to move to their spring camp and begin making maple sugar. The head of Curly Tail is located in Hydra, the water snake; its tail is the head and front paw of Leo.
Nanaboujou, Nenabozho, a protecting spirit who helped earth people by creating dry land, shoots an arrow at Curly Tail. Nanaboujou is visible in the southeast in June and includes Scorpio.
In summer, Crane Ajijaak, (Cygnus) is at its brightest. It’s also called the Skeleton Bird. Ojibwe leaders come from Crane and Loon clans.
Fisher,Ojiig, (Big Dipper) ascends high overhead in summer. Listen to Carl Gawboy telling how Fisher, who saved the birds and brought spring, got pinned to the sky by the ogres.
Two more summer constellations (and a surprise for a sauna-lover) are the Sweat Lodge and Exhausted Bather. Sweat Lodge is Corona, which is new to me—I love having that reminder in the sky. The sweat lodge returns people to their spiritual focus, much as my sauna balances me. Exhausted Bather is part of the lower foot of Hercules.
Other tribes see different constellations. The Native Skywatchers site offers books and planispheres also for D/Lakota and Cree constellations. For example, the Blue Woman or Birth Woman is how D/Lakota see what we call the Big Dipper/Fisher.
The first listed author, Annette S. Lee, has a presentation on Loon, Crane, Fisher and Salamander. Check it out at the Bell Museum site.
One more way to spark your learning: Find and sketch 39 constellations on the Bell Museum’s list and send them verification to earn a certificate and pin from the Minnesota Astronomical Society. Hmmm. Maybe I won’t need my sky app after this.
How does this connect to Book 3? I thought my characters would enjoy the night sky and talk about star lore. Then I discovered that some star stories weren’t told except in winter. Obviously more research is needed. Even if Andre can’t share the info, I can to you in this blog.
- Get the whole story — buy “Waters Like the Sky” or “Treacherous Waters” through PayPal. Or the ebook.
- Request to be on the waiting list for Book 3.
- Subscribe to this free blog and read posts as soon as they’re written!
- For fun finds or quirky comments, visit me on Facebook. Like or Friend or Comment.
- Book me as a speaker.
- Ask your library, local school, gift shop to purchase copies of “Waters Like the Sky” or “Treacherous Waters.”
- Become a voyageur for an hour—come to a presentation.
- “Ojibwe Sky Star Map Constellation Guide: An Introduction to Ojibwe Star Knowledge” by Annette S. Lee, William Wilson, Jeffrey Tibbetts and Carl Gawboy. (2014)
- “Talking Sky: Ojibwe Constellations as a Reflection of Life on the Land” by Carl Gawboy and Ron Morton, illustrated by Carl Gawboy. Rockflower Press, (Duluth, Minnesota, 2014)
- Ojibwe People’s Dictionary https://ojibwe.lib.umn.edu/
- Bell Museum website https://bellmuseum.umn.edu
- NativeSkyWatchers website https://nativeskywatchers.com books and planispheres for purchase, videos, events, resources
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Loved this information. Can you imagine the beautiful, or maybe a little scary to them, sky they could see in all the darkness. No city lights or airplanes or cars or highway noises. Wow. It had to be awesome.
Thanks, Joelle. I like the idea of imagining stars clustered in different constellations from the ones we’re used to. You’re right–people who were used to towns must have been stunned at the vast darkness of the night sky, and the thousands of stars. Sometimes, when we get far enough away from “civilization,” we get a glimpse of what they saw.