6.11.19FortAtkinsonStargazing.JPG

Steve Tamayo discusses Lakota cosmology and how the thirteen sticks he uses when making his tipis represent the 13 moons of the Lakota year while Omaha Astronomical Society members prepare telescopes.

Lakota people explain the stars through storytelling, said Sicangu Lakota tribe member Steve Tamayo.

"Long ago there were these seven girls," said Tamayo, an Omaha Metro Community College adjunct professor and cultural consultant with Omaha Public Schools. "We call them wicicala sakowin. Seven little girls are running through hesapa, through the Black Hills. All of a sudden they heard something knocking down the trees … This huge bear started chasing them. They kept running, they kept running. They knew they couldn't outrun the bear, so they utilized the power of prayer … Underneath their feet the earth started shaking. This big rock formation came out of the ground and started going up into the sky. Those girls, they kept going."

This is how the Lakota explain the constellation Pleiades, Tamayo said. He spoke to about a dozen visitors at Fort Atkinson on Saturday night during a stargazing event hosted by the fort with Tamayo and the Omaha Astronomical Society (OAS).

Tamayo discussed the importance of the stars and the 13 moons to the Lakota people during the event, and how he has spoken to elders to learn the associated oral stories that were often suppressed during the United States western expansion and placement into Native American boarding schools by the government.

"If you look at the history of the Omaha people, their names are hard to say," Tamayo said. "When the government came in, they were like, 'We're going to take your names away. We don't know how to say them, we don't know how to write them.' They gave them all Civil War names. That's why there's Mitchells, and Shermans and Grants."

The cultural presentation primed fort visitors in stargazing before they were able to look through a few OAS members' telescopes at the moon and some of the stellar objects — Vega, Arcturus, Jupiter and its four moons — that remained visible through approaching clouds.

"These are our stargazers that have the equipment to see the things Ive been talking about," Tamayo said.

OAS member Steve Skinner had the most technologically advanced telescope. If he could find and line up three stars in the sky with his telescope, Skinner said he could use a synced up tablet app to find any object or other star in the sky, even through light pollution.

"It's called a GoTo system," he said. "The old astronomers will say, 'Oh, you can't use electronics.' Well guess what old-timer? There's too much light pollution … I tell everyone that this will knock your socks off, and I turn on the lights — there's all these socks on the ground."

Other OAS members had their telescopes focused on the moon, craters easily visible through the lenses, Jupiter or a set of three stars in the northern sky known as the Summer Triangle. The star Arcturus, one of the brightest stars in the night sky, was directly overhead.

In Lakota cosmology, when the constellation Aries is at its highest point, that is when the Lakota people know February has turned to March and a time of spring and rebirth has come.

"This idea came up about star night, and I was like, 'We have all kinds of stories,'" Tamayo said. "(Lakota stories) are what we get to teach, the absent narratives is what we call it. Our voice. Our stories."

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