Wednesday, July 05, 2017

A Native Perspective on the Upcoming Total Solar Eclipse

Eds. note: American Indians in Children's Literature is pleased to share this open letter about the upcoming total solar eclipseWritten by Naomi Bishop (Gila River Indian Community), currently serving as President of the American Indian Library Association, we think teachers and librarians -- and parents, too -- will find it useful. 


July 5, 2017

Dear librarians and teachers, 

Eclipse viewing glasses and library programs are big in social media and libraries right now. It is a great opportunity to share STEM programs with the public. However, some cultures view an eclipse differently. While I can’t speak for all cultures impacted, I can speak for some Native American communities. In Navajo culture the shadow that is made by the sun is very important and viewing the eclipse is not encouraged. Many Native American families visit our libraries, attend our programs, read our books and view us as part of their community. 

If you decide to host an eclipse program, please be aware that some families might not be receptive. If a family does not want to participate, respect their choice. Please avoid placing children in a position where they need to explain their beliefs or identify themselves as Native American. Give them a safe way to back out, or to decline participation. 

If you would like to learn more about Navajo Astronomy there is a great book you can order for your library called Sharing the Skies : Navajo Astronomy by Nacy Maryboy and David Begay. 

Sharing the Skies : Navajo Astronomy.
Author: Nancy C Maryboy; David Begay; Indigenous Education Institute.; World Hope Foundation. Publisher: Tucson, Ariz. : Rio Nuevo Publishers, ©2010.

Sharing the Skies: Navajo Astronomy was published by a Navajo scholar and educator. David Begay is one of the founders of the Indigenous Education Institute. He lives on the Navajo Nation and works with UC Berkeley, Space Science Labs in the areas of Western and Indigenous science with support from NASA and the National Science Foundation. Nacy Maryboy is a Cherokee/ Navajo scholar and focuses on Indigenous science and astronomy. She is President and Executive Director of the Indigenous Education Institute. This book was published as a resource for teachers and families. It is a beautiful book and an excellent collection to any library.  The authors note in the beginning of the book has this important cultural information: 
"Although this book is available year round we encourage teachers to be sensitive to the cultural protocol and use this book primarily during the winter months." 

Here are some more resources for teachers and librarians focused on Indigenous STEM programs. 

Indigenous Education Tools - University of Washington

Implementing Meaningful STEM Education with Indigenous Students & Families

Teaching STEM In Ways that Respect and Build Upon Indigenous Peoples' Rights

Indigenous Education Institute

The American Indian Science and Engineering Society 

Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science

I hope this information is helpful and encourages more learning and discussions among educators and librarians. Feel free to contact me with any questions. 


Naomi Bishop, MLIS 
Member of the Gila River Indian Community 
AILA President 2017-2018
Northern Arizona University Cline Library 
Teaching, Research, and Learning Services
Science and Engineering Librarian 


riversong said...

thank you for your nice comments on our work. We are almost finished with our half hour planetarium show, Sharing The Skies, about Navajo astronomy as told to children by their grandparents. You can find us at
Nancy Maryboy

We are also doing a short video on Indigenous perspectives on eclipses - if you have any stories you wish to share please contact me. Also if you have any stories on Mars you wish to share, contact me. Thank you.

Christy said...

I had no idea, this is fascinating and i will be looking into the links you have provided. Thank you for sharing this perspective.

Anonymous said...

Were this eclipse during the main school year, it is as uncomfortable to imagine a teacher changing her STEM teaching to fit the religious beliefs of those from some Native nations as it is for the teacher to change her STEM teaching to fit the religious beliefs of those from some Bible-literalist churches. In all cases, the responsibility of the STEM teacher in the classroom is to debunk superstition and folk falsehood, and shine the light of science where it belongs. This is as true for astronomy as it is for climate change or evolution. After school or library programs are another matter, of course.

Susanne said...

The article did not ask for anyone to change the teaching. It asked for librarians, teachers give native families a safe way to decline participation and to respect their choice. I appreciate the generosity of the writer sharing this information and raising awareness.

Southeastern Writers Conference Newsletter said...

I did school programs about astronomy using a portable planetarium for several years. I was well versed in the Greek-Roman constellations. There were basic concepts I taught like movement and position of the Earth versus stars and the sun. Rarely did I have groups that I spent more than a day with so I did not share native American constellations more in that I was unsure what was correct and what was supposed.

This is a great resource since trained scientists are creating the materials.

Unknown said...

What a lovely post! Thanks to everybody involved for the thoughtful information.

And no,respecting the needs of a people whose religion and culture has been historically outlawed, marginalized, and which authorities have tried to erase is nothing like catering to the desires of people whose religion has been empowered for several centuries, often to the fatal detriment of those who don't practice it.


Anonymous said...

I don't know anyone who has ever been forced into participating in a program at a library. If it's not something that interests you or your family then don't go. There are other people that might find an eclipse program enjoyable. As for a program at school, it may be curricuum-driven. The teacher-librarian has to follow the curriculum.

Unknown said...

Since nobody is suggesting canceling any programs, Anonymous, could you explain your point?


Anonymous said...

I never said anything about canceling programs either. In the post, it states, "Give them a safe way to back out, or to decline participation. " Why would they need a safe way to back out? If they don't feel comfortable, they don't need to go. I've never known a library to ask for a reason why someone isn't attending a program.

Unknown said...

You seem to be defending the existence of such programs, though. Why do that unless you feel they're under attack?

If an eclipse program is part of an ongoing program, a child and family might not know the content until they're at the library, at which point it would be nice for them to have an alternative activity.

Seriously, why are you taking issue with this post? It's not attacking anything. It's providing information about how to make libraries welcoming to Native children.