New U of T Class merges Indigenous Worldviews with Astronomy13 Sep 2021
New U of T Class merges Indigenous Worldviews with Astronomy
Indigenous perspectives are a strong component of the study of astronomy, and now one U of T prof is helping to bring this important connection to the classroom.
Hilding Neilson, Assistant Professor at the David A. Dunlap Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics, has created a course for students who are interested in Indigenous perspectives, ethics, and colonization in science.
Called “Indigenous Worldviews and Astronomy,” Neilson created this 300 level class because he believes viewing astronomy exclusively through a Western lens can be limiting.
“We tend to omit Indigenous perspectives and methods in this discussion, even though we live and benefit from being on Indigenous lands,” Neilson says. “By embracing Indigenous and other knowledges, we bring more lenses, and that can only enrich our view and understanding of the Universe.”
Neilson describes Indigenous knowledges as more wholistic and relational – reflecting our place on the land, and our relation to the world around us.
An example he uses to describe this is through the diverse and dynamic nature of telescope technology. An astronomer that uses infrared and ultraviolet telescopes in addition to traditional optical telescopes will be able to understand significantly more about the night sky.
The class itself will focus on understanding how we benefit from telescopes on Indigenous lands, as well as learning to appreciate the Indigenous in the night sky.
Neilson is Mi’kmaw from the Qalipu First Nation. While he didn’t grow up with Mi’kmaw culture as a large part of his life, he says he was inspired later on by a lecture from a Cree Astronomer, and tried to learn more as a result.
“I feel that learning from Indigenous knowledges have allowed me to relate and connect with the science more deeply, and to think about how I myself relate to that knowledge.”
“It has made me a better scientist.”
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Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics,
University of Toronto