Atchakosuk

I walked Gracie for her final before-bed loop the other night, bundled up as if I was on a trek to the Arctic Circle. Bright flashlight in hand, I stepped outside and started off down my road, Gracie bounding ahead of me. It was a cold night, for sure, but not the kind of cold that freezes your breath. The beauty of cold nights is the lack of cloud cover, and the sky was alive with stars, seeming to pulse in time with my beating heart. No moonlight overpowered the small twinkling wonders, the stars looking as though they had been scattered in the sky like grass seed. I fell back in the snow and waited for Gracie to stop feeling the need to resuscitate me with licks or by lying on top of me with her ninety-pound body. I switched off my flashlight and gazed upwards and I could feel a smile emerge from every cell of my tired body.

I looked first for the familiar constellations – Orion’s Belt, Ursa Major and Minor, Polaris (the North Star), Cassiopeia. I remember very little of the mythological stories learned in school that go with said constellations, and the only thing that stuck with me was the fact that most of the stories involved murder and jealousy and cruelty, better off forgotten. Instead, I thought of Wilfred Buck, a member of the Opaskwayak Cree Nation in Northern Manitoba and his love of atchakosuk (stars). My grandmother, several generations back, was of the Cree Nation, born at the Prince of Wales Fort at the mouth of the Churchill River in Northern Manitoba and I am drawn to the story of her, curious about the parts of her that might be within me and her stories I am obligated to live without. I imagine what she saw when she looked up into her night sky.

Wilfred Buck is a science facilitator, affectionately referred to as the “star guy” due to his extensive knowledge of astronomy through a First Nations lens and his passion for stars, which he teaches at the Manitoba First Nations Education Centre, touring his portable planetariums around the country, inspiring new generations of astronomers. First Nations people have a deep knowledge of astronomy, not limited to navigation and reminder of the seasons, but also contributing to the study of cosmology and quantum physics. Wilfred, along with Annette Lee and William Wilson, created a native sky map in planisphere format, a tool to quickly calculate the placement of the stars at specific times throughout the year. Wilfred is also involved in organizing the Star Knowledge Symposium, the first from an Indigenous perspective, to be held in Ottawa this year (postponed from 2020 due to the pandemic) with participation of the Knowledge Keepers from around the world. He authored a 2018 book Tipiskawi Kisik: Night Sky Stories written from a Cree perspective. In the book Wilfred says, “We arrive at knowledge from many different paths. And the more aware we are of other possibilities, the more sensitive we will be to understanding and difference.”