February 28, 2021

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Indigenous astronomies and ‘astro-colonialism’ | CBC Radio

Astronomy training in Canada is “very, very centred within the European mannequin,” mentioned Hilding Neilson, who’s Mi’kmaw and a professor within the division of astronomy and astrophysics on the College of Toronto. The best way introductory astronomy is mostly taught, he defined, “it is simply this one linear path from the Romans to, primarily, Neil deGrasse Tyson.” 

Neilson is attempting to vary the dominant approach of approaching astronomy by incorporating Indigenous astronomies within the classroom. Indigenous astronomies, defined Hilding, are “the astronomies and the knowledges of the peoples of the land.” 

“Each Nation has their very own perspective of the night time sky, their very own interpretation and data of it,” he mentioned. 

“Indigenous astronomies converse to a connection to the land and to the folks. And that data has been right here so long as folks have been right here.”

Neilson teaches his college students the Mi’kmaw idea of Two Eyed Seeing which, he defined, includes trying on the world via the lenses of each Western science and Indigenous knowledges. 

“With one eye we’re solely trying via one lens,” mentioned Neilson. “After we convey each lenses collectively, we are able to construct a higher image.”  


“There’s this intimate sort of connection between astronomy and science and colonization,” defined Neilson. Astro-colonialism is a time period used to explain these connections, he mentioned. 

Hilding Neilson is a professor within the division of astronomy and astrophysics on the College of Toronto (Submitted by Hilding Neilson)

The origins of astro-colonialism, defined Hilding, stretch again in time. For example, Hilding cites James Cook dinner’s first voyage to the Pacific, in 1769, to watch the transit of Venus throughout the solar. Cook dinner, Hilding mentioned, had British orders to “uncover” the area, and the voyage triggered colonisation within the space. 

At present, mentioned Hilding, astro-colonialism may be seen within the location of telescopes. “Trendy astrophysics depends on the most important telescopes on the earth to search for the primary stars, to search for proof of darkish matter,” defined Hilding. 

These telescopes, he mentioned, are on Indigenous territories — “whether or not that is in Hawaii on Maunakea, the southern United States, Chile, Australia.” 

The deliberate development of the controversial Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) on Maunakea, Hawaii’s tallest mountain, has sparked opposition from many Indigenous folks in Hawaii. 

In 2015, Canadian astronomers efficiently lobbied the federal authorities to commit $254.5 million in funding towards the venture. 

Hilding has been outspoken in regards to the difficulty and in regards to the want for Indigenous consent of telescopes and astronomy amenities on Indigenous lands.  

In the long run, it is only a matter: of now we have to respect Indigenous rights first and fear about thirty meter telescopes later.-Hilding Neilson

Hilding mentioned it is difficult as a result of, as a tutorial, his analysis depends on accessing telescopes like TMT. “If I need to have a everlasting job in academia, I want to write down papers, I have to publish journal articles. And that will depend on utilizing these amenities.” 

“If the Thirty Meter Telescope existed, I’d have the power to use for observations of planets going round different stars, searching for the primary stars ever born in our universe, to do science that I can’t take into consideration but. However on the similar time, if we do not have permission or consent, how is that moral? Do I’ve to decide on between being a superb astronomer or respecting Indigenous rights? Is {that a} truthful alternative in any respect?” 

“In the long run, it is only a matter of: now we have to respect Indigenous rights first and fear about thirty meter telescopes later.” 

Produced and written by Zoe Tennant.