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Digital Storytelling and ‘Native SkyWatchers – We are Stardust’ Project (USA)


Native Skywatchers – We are Stardust Project

The Native Skywatchers – We are Stardust Project is the work of multi-talented Professor Annette Lee, a professor of Astronomy and indeginous artist whose cultural heritage is the Ojibwe peoples who along with the Dakota people are the indigenous people of Mni Sota Makoce or Minnesota. This digital storytelling project grew out of a collaboration  led by Annette S Lee in collaboration with Raja (Puragra) Guhathakurta (University of California Santa Cruz) lives at the intersection of Science-art-culture and brought together a group of adult educators and high school students interested in STEM and particularly in Astrology.

Building on the existing Native Skywatchers research and programming initiative (an Indigenous Star Knoweldge Revitlization initative) in a unique merger with the Starry, Starry Night program, (an initiative that gives students and teachers access to real-time observations with the Keck 10-m telescope on Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawai`i and the Lick Observatory’s Shane 3-m telescope on Mount Hamilton in California. Think of this as ‘Eavesdropping on a Observing Session’.) The idea is to give students and educators a unique opportunity for authentic involvement in science and also to weave cultural relevance equally into the experience to produce the highest level of engagement, excitement, and meaning for all involved. This project is a multidisciplinary approach to Art as Social Practice and Science Communication for the benefit of all.

The “We are Stardust” project utilizes the evidence-based strategies of:  digital storytelling pedagogy, culturally responsive pedagogy, experiential learning, and co-creation learning. We bring together Western and Indigenous science in the context of the theme, “We are Star Dust”, to inspire curiosity, to ignite motivation, and to create a supportive learning space so we can tell our story of relationship to sky.  Einstein himself said “we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them”. As described by Mi’kmaw elders: Etuaptmumk or Two-Eyed Seeing is learning to see from one eye with the strengths of Indigenous knowledges and ways of knowing, and from the other eye with the strengths of Western knowledges and ways of knowing, and to use both these eyes for the benefit of all. (Bartlett, Marshall and Marshall 2012, 336)

The Summer Internship Program (SIP) was held online with educators and students from across the globe (USA, Mexico, Zimbabwe, India and Taiwan. Dr Teti Dragas was invited to collaborate and co-facilitate in the project advising on the digital story input for students and educators and advising on the way in which to support the entry into story. Marie Lovejoy from Storycenter USA was also part of the story facilitation support and completed the team.

It was a fascinating project with students interweaving three interrelated stories, drawn from science, culture and their own exploration to the stars. Feedback from the students was really positive and it was a truly enriching experience for all invovled and a great initative.


Conference Presentation and Dissemination

The team presented on this at the  Astronomical Society of the Pacific ASP2021 Virtual Conference  held in November 2021. See outputs.

Abstract: Storytellers help us to build connections, to send shoots in search of new perspectives towards new epistemologies.  Story becomes a current, a connector that travels through and with ideas, generations, and cultures. A community conversation between the cosmos and us. We acknowledge story as narrative pedagogy. We acknowledge the role that storytelling has played in Indigenous cultures throughout time, past and present. This interactive session will give participants a summary of results, optics of the evidence-based approaches and a chance to draft their own story and consider what science identity, cultural identity, and art mean to you. Learn about the role dark matter plays in our stardust story, find your voice, tell your story, dare to be a storyteller.

Native Skwatchers has a website that houses all the projects that have been undertaken in this space. Stories and outputs from students and educators can be found on the link below.

Native Skywatchers – We are Stardust

… historically, the storyteller acts as a medium through which knowledge is passed on.

Dragas, 'The Return of the Storyteller in Contemporary Fiction' (2014: 29)