July 16th, 2024

Indigenous story teller shares the legends behind the stars

By Theodora MacLeod - Lethbridge Herald Local Journalism Initiative Reporter on October 7, 2023.

Herald photo by Theodora MacLeod William Singer III demonstrates Blackfoot sign language to attendees of the Blackfoot Sky Science event at the Oldman River Observatory on Thursday evening.

Ask a scientist about the existence of humans, and he or she might say humans are but stardust.

Well, kind of. Without the romance and poetics, science suggests the elements that make up the human body, such as calcium, carbon, iron, and oxygen originated in stars billions of years ago.

Every culture relies on origin stories to explain the existence of humankind and birth of planet Earth. For the Blackfoot people the roots of humanity and existence are linked with the sky above. On Thursday night, a fortunate handful of people had the opportunity to learn a little more about those beliefs at the Blackfoot Sky Science event hosted by the Galt Museum, in partnership with Lethbridge Astronomy Society at the Oldman River Observatory in Popson Park.

A man of many tales and talents, William Singer III (Api’soomaahka), founder Naapi’s Garden and Katoyiss Seed Bank, took centre stage to share some of the legends behind specific constellations and stars with an eager audience. One story is that of the namesake of his seed bank.

Katoyiss was said to have been born from a blood clot and sent to the world as a steward of the land. Upon his death, he returned to the night sky.

“You see him during the wintertime, in Orion,” Singer said. “Elders say it’s the whole constellation, and some say it’s the fuzzy star you see on the belt that is Katoyiss. Not too far from Katoyiss is the dog star; his dog is following him.”

Singer noted that the beloved dog featured in the stories of Katoyiss is named sisomm

“These stories are something that are really important to know because every culture has their own version. But the thing that we all share is that we all come from the stars,” Singer said.

Included in the stories are useful life skills and lessons. Guests were invited to create a star clock out of cardstock that helps to tell time using the position of the Big Dipper in the night sky. That was important for those keeping watch outside the tipi to know.

Though the sky Thursday night was too clouded to see the stars and constellations, the folklore was rich and it’s unlikely those in attendance will look up on clearer nights and not think of Katoyiss, or the other characters discussed. While science has an explanation for the origins of the galaxy, the creation of earth, and the existence of humanity, so do the Blackfoot people.

“We come from the stars,” Singer says. “We still have that connection. The stories that I tell are the stories I was told. In my family my dad was the storyteller. From there I started telling stories. That’s something I’ve always enjoyed because the more stories you tell the more connection you have to your environment.”

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