Building community around Native knowledge

Nov 6th, 2012 | By | Category: 24-2: The Future of the Tribal College Movement, Tribal College News
By Annette S. Lee

NATIVE SKYWATCHERS. Ojibwe Giizhig Anung Masinaaigan – Ojibwe Sky Star Map displays in X-ray painting style the Ojibwe constellations. Courtesy of Annette S. Lee

In June 2012, regional educators, students, administrators, and astronomy enthusiasts gathered at Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College (FDLTCC, Cloquet, MN) for the first annual Native Skywatchers – Ojibwe and D(L)akota Star Knowledge Middle School Teacher Workshop.

The two-day workshop featured the Ojibwe Giizhig Anung Masinaaigan – Ojibwe Sky Star Map. Created by Annette Lee (Dakota), William Wilson (Lake Nipigon Ojibwe), and Carl Gawboy (Bois Forte Ojibwe), the firstof- its-kind star map painting displays the Ojibwe constellations in X-ray painting style. The star map represents an interdisciplinary approach in which astronomy, Native culture, language, and art are all gracefully woven together.

The map itself is organized with Giwedin’anung, the North Star or Polaris at the center. The Maang–Loon Constellation, or the Little Dipper, stretches outward from this center point with all other constellations encircling it. Surrounding this northern group of stars are the constellations of the four seasons: Ziigwan–Spring, Niibin–Summer, Dagwaagin–Fall, and Biboon–Winter. Present in colorful x-ray painting style are Mishi Bizhiw– Curly Tail, Ajiijaak–Crane, Mooz– Moose, Biboonkeonini–Wintermaker, and others. Each of the four corners of the map is filled with Ojibwe star vocabulary such as: Jiibay Ziibi–River of Souls–Milky Way and Jiibayag Niimi’idiway–Spirits Dancing– Northern Lights/Aurora Borealis.

The workshop was led by Annette Lee. Supporting facilitators included: William Wilson, Carl Gawboy, Jim Rock (Sisseton Dakota), Charlene O’Rourke (Pine Ridge Lakota), and Jeff Tibbetts (Fond du Lac Ojibwe). A detailed Ojibwe Constellation Guide and related curriculum materials were presented to participants in hands-on sessions like “Follow the Seasons, Follow the Stars.” The workshop focused on experiential learning grounded in the current night sky and the four directions. Other keynote presentations included “New Paradigms on Indian Studies, Seasonal Timekeeping, Legendary Figures, and Clan Symbols.”

This work is funded by collaboration between NASA-Minnesota Space Grant, St. Cloud State University, and Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College.

For more information contact Annette S. Lee, professor of astronomy and physics,, or visit the website at

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