Disclaimer: this webpage is a work-in-progress that I plan to cultivate throughout the forseeable future. It is the byproduct of final projects from the UTS 101 and NSC 109 courses at UT Austin I was enrolled in during the fall 2020 semester. I do not own any of the content displayed here, outside of the python script and lesson plan I wrote. I am a white, cisgender, settler and an astronomer. As an astronomer, I have made use of telescopes on Indigenous lands. This project is intended to help shed light on these issues and help offer ways to amplify Indigenous voices. In particular, I designed this to project to serve as a luaunch pad for teachers and astronomers to bring these struggles for Indigenous sovereignty and liberation into the classroom and workplace. I am attempting to present this in the most appropriate and respectful manner possile, but I am by no means an expert on the material discussed here. If you have any comments regarding the material discussed here, please correspond with me at josephguidry[at]utexas[dot]edu.
Outline: here you will find a non-exhaustive set of reading and further learning on these topics. You can also find an interactive python widget I wrote using matplotlib and a lesson plan on astrocolonialism I wrote as a student in UTS 101 in Fall 2020. Again, this page is intended to spread awareness of how we can talk about astrocolonialism and protecting Indigenous sovereignty, especially in the classroom. My main priorities for the future are to curate a list of Indigenous-led and focused mutual aid efforts that serve as direct vehicles to defending Indigenous land and sovereignty and to procure more resources for further study.
It’s time we stop teaching science under a revisionist lens, and this includes astronomy.
Astronomy has advanced humanity’s knowledge of the Universe in immeasurable ways. It has spurred superb technological advances demanded by its insatiable appetite to uncover the secrets of the Cosmos. Simultaneously, searches for the planet’s optimal astornomical observing locations is heating up. In the tradition of Western Astronomy, this unfolds as the reaping of remote mountain tops for the construction of modern astronomical observatories. But where are these remote, pristine mountain tops that are accessible by vehicle?
In the Americas and Hawai‘i, these are lands that have been stolen from Indigenous peoples. Most, if not all, of these sites are sacred lands. The most tragic example of this Maunakea, home to 12 astronomical observatories with one expecially enormous planned for construction: the Thirty Meter Telescope. Such a telescope is apart of a new emergence of extremely large modern observatories, tripling the primary mirror’s size of 10 meter class observatories to 30 meters. Content warning: r*pe The construction of yet another observatory, regardless of size, has been likened to “raping” the otherwise pure, sacred Mauna by Native Hawaiians, the Kānaka Maoli people.
It is unequivocal: astronomy has perpetuated and benefitted from settler colonialism and white supremacy (e.g., Prescod-Weinstein et al. 2019). It is incumbent upon astronoemrs, and teachers too, to reject and denounce this tradition and to make our colleagues and neighbors aware of its devastation to Indigenous peoples. Further, we must involve Indigenous peoples in how we rethink and teach astronomy going forward. For astronomers, the is perhaps no better way to make impactful change than by rethinking how we fund our science. Please condsider the specific recommendations proposed in the Venkatesan et al. 2020 Astro2020 white paper.
Furthermore, we know that Indigenous people were accomplished astronomers and scientists (e.g., Venkatesan et al. 2020), and yet their achievments and contributions rarely, if ever, make their way onto syllabi. As teachers, we must work to incorporate adequate sociocultural contexts into our lessons. We need to explain the history of oppression to our students. We need to explain our history is whitewashed. And we need to amplify oppressed voices, both to protect Indigenous peoples fight for sovereignty and aid in the liberation of Black people, but also to give all of our students role models. Dr. Megan Bang, an Ojibwe sociologist and education scholar at the University of Washington, is an expert on bringing Indigenous epistemology into the classroom. Teachers should study these presentation slides she prepared to learn how to transform their science curricula to incorporate and celebrate these epistemologies and perspectives:
For further reading on the Hawaiians’ struggle against TMT visit the above link and these resources:
- Astrobites piece - Maunakea, Western Astronomy, and Hawai’i
- A short film by Puuhonua Puuhuluhulu documenting the July protests and stuggles against the TMT’s construction: Like a Mighty Wave: A Maunakea Film
More general resources on Astrocolonialism:
- Astrcolonialism in the Southwest: The Tohono O’odham people and Kitt Peak National Observatory
- Astronomical Observatories and Indigenous Communities in Chile
Here is some more reading on the contributions of Indigenous astronomers:
General resources on Indigenous people on Turtle Island (North America):
Industrialized astronomy and aeronautics pose threats to Indigenous livihoods as well, as the explosion of low-earth orbit satellites is drowning out the Heavens. For further reading see:
- Aparna Venkatesan et al. 2020 - The impact of satellite constellations on space as an ancestral global commons
Below you’ll find a python widget meant to help lend context to just how big these telescopes are (work-in-progress):
import matplotlib.pyplot as plt from matplotlib.widgets import Slider %matplotlib notebook %matplotlib notebook fig, ax = plt.subplots() plt.subplots_adjust(left=0.25, bottom=0.25) d0=10 l, = plt.plot(0.5, 0.37,markerfacecolor='k',marker="$\u2A4D$", ms=d0) plt.plot(0.5,-0.5,c='C5',marker='8',ms=400,alpha=0.8) plt.ylim(0,1) ax.margins(x=0) axcolor = 'lightgoldenrodyellow' axtel = plt.axes([0.25, 0.1, 0.65, 0.03], facecolor=axcolor) mirror_diameter = Slider(axtel, 'Mirror Diameter', 0.5, 50.0, valinit=d0, valstep=0.5) def update(val): d = mirror_diameter.val l.set_markersize(d) fig.canvas.draw_idle() mirror_diameter.on_changed(update) plt.show()
Having students write or play with similar widgets can help them gain an understanding of how invasive these enormous sturctures are, and why astronomers must work with Indigenous peoples to make reparations for their damage and carefully plan future use of their facilities. At the same time, students can gain valuable coding experience.
Note: much of the above code was adapated from an example made available by matplotlib.
So how can we bring this to the classroom?
Anyway that respects the sovereignty of Indigenous peoples. I attempted to do this in the lesson shared below. I wrote and taught this lesson on astrocolonialism (focused to the TMT July 2019 protests) to a class of 5th graders during my time as a student in the class UTS 101 at UT Austin, the first course in the UTeach program. Feel free to take the lesson and mold it to your student’s needs and interests:
If this inspired a lesson you taught, if you consent to it, could you please share the lesson with me so I could publish it here (you will be credited, of course).