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Haudenosaunee astronomy presentation heading to New York planetarium

Samantha Doxtator will take her presentation on Haudenosaunee astronomy to the Hayden Planetarium in New York City in February.  (Candace Maracle/CBC - image credit)
Samantha Doxtator will take her presentation on Haudenosaunee astronomy to the Hayden Planetarium in New York City in February. (Candace Maracle/CBC - image credit)

Samantha Doxtator says Haudenosaunee people have always been astronomers and scientists; now she thinks it's time other people learn what her people know.

Doxtator, a member of the Oneida nation, will present Indigenous Astronomy as told by the Haudenosaunee at the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City on Feb. 20.

Doxtator says Haudenosaunee people have always looked to the sky to inform their ways of being. From their creation story to their planting cycles, to determining when certain Longhouse ceremonies occur, Haudenosaunee people still use constellations and moon cycles in their daily lives.

For example, Doxtator said corn, beans and squash — called life sustainers in the Kanien'kéha language —  are planted after the first quarter moon phase for optimal soil moisture and the strength of the moon light.

"My intention with this presentation is to really heal Indigenous oppression with astronomical knowledge and original ways of knowing," Doxtator said.

"We have to remember who we are and how we already have all these connections."

The presentation builds on the work of her sister, Sasha, who died of cancer in 2021. Sasha collected teachings across Haudenosaunee territories for her university research.

"She always wanted us to do this work together," said Doxtator.

Rather than the 2D of a PowerPoint presentation, Hayden Planetarium will bring the 3D to life on the Dome.
Rather than the 2D of a PowerPoint presentation, Hayden Planetarium will bring the 3D to life on the Dome.

Rather than the 2D of a PowerPoint presentation, the planetarium's dome will bring the 3D to life. (Roderick Mickens/American Museum of Natural History)

Doxtator said she's always been interested in the stars because according to teachings, that's where her people came from — and when they die, it's where they return, she said.

"It's really helped me to keep my grief in the light because it's real easy to like, slip into the darkness of grief," she said.

She said when a star dies it becomes a supernova and that's how we need to think of death. She said it helps "when you understand how special the ceremony of death is, and how it's just as special as the ceremony of birth."

An immersive experience

Jacqueline Handy, director of public programs at the American Museum of Natural History, said one of the museum's mandates is to make their audiences and stages as diverse as New York City.

"Indigenous sky watching is a rich and fundamental source for the origins of modern astronomy," said Handy.

"We're excited for Sam to come and share the Haudenosaunee perspective on astronomical connections to creation and to life cycles on Earth."

Haudenosaunee people have always looked to the sky to inform their ways of being. From their Creation story, to their planting cycles, to determining when certain Longhouse ceremonies occur, Haudenosaunee people still use constellations and moon cycles in their daily lives.
Haudenosaunee people have always looked to the sky to inform their ways of being. From their Creation story, to their planting cycles, to determining when certain Longhouse ceremonies occur, Haudenosaunee people still use constellations and moon cycles in their daily lives.

The three hunters and the big bear in the constellation also known as the Big Dipper. (Samantha Doxtator)

Doxtator's presentation is part of the Hayden Planetarium's Astronomy Live series, which Handy describes as a tour of the universe and features the OpenSpace visualization software to create an immersive experience.

"Rather than the 2D of a PowerPoint presentation, we'll be able to bring the 3D to life," said Handy.

"So we'll have a pilot as well as Sam moving through time and the universe."

Handy said the event is different because this platform has historically featured academics. This integration, she said, is intended to elevate both traditional and Indigenous wisdom alongside academic expertise.

Ashley Doxtator has seen her cousin's presentation twice and said she was moved to tears. She said the teachings are a reinforcement of Haudenosaunee identity and it's something her community needs.

"Even though you're looking at the stars, you're grounded here knowing that you have that connection," she said.