The Dominion Astrophysical Observatory, located within W̱SÁNEĆ territory and managed by the Federal Government, offers stunning views of both the stars and the surrounding mountains and valleys. Currently, the interpretive signage regarding the night sky and the surrounding land exclusively features a Western perspective.

The WLC has been working to partner with the observatory to rectify this erasure of W̱SÁNEĆ culture and language. Recently, the WLC has obtained agreement to move forward on the first of a number of initiatives that would reinstate SENĆOŦEN names and places, both on land and in the sky. 

The first initiative is the creation of external signage in SENĆOŦEN with accompanying artwork, similar to that which was installed at the name reclaiming ceremony at SMONEĆTEN. These signs will ensure W̱SÁNEĆ history and culture is prominently and permanently displayed along the viewpoints on W̱ȾIXES (Observatory Hill), as well as within the observatory itself. 

The second initiative the WLC is working on is to bring in W̱SÁNEĆ storytellers and artists to help create a permanent display at the Observatory on W̱SÁNEĆ moons and stories of the night sky. 

“It’s going to be so great that our kids can go on a field trip to the observatory and see themselves and their language and culture represented; where they can see our stories about the creation of the solar system and the constellations” shares Joni Olsen, the Policy/Negotiations Analyst for the WLC. 

According to Jenness, an anthropologist who studied traditional W̱SÁNEĆ ways in the 1930’s:

“The earth seemed to the Saanitch a flat expanse of land and sea over which brooded the sky, which was just another land like this one, possessing water and trees, and supporting animals and humanlike beings. The river that flowed through sky-land was the Milky Way, the northern lights were ice-floes that drifted in the water and were lit up by the departing sun, and the winking stars were the light of people’s eyes. The Indians gave names to many of the stars; they called the Great Dipper the elk, the Little Dipper the bullhead, the Morning Star the day-bringer, and Orion’s belt, which they imagined were six men in two canoes hunting ducks, was papayahtil. Two girls once married stars, the legend ran, and they told the Indians about sky-land after they returned to earth. The most powerful human-like beings in that land were the sun, which was female, and the moon, which was male.”

Shown above, the story of SȽEMEW̱ – the First W̱SÁNEĆ man from the sky

The third and final initiative at the observatory goes beyond signage and installations and focuses on education, job training and economic opportunities for W̱SÁNEĆ people. The WLC is now working with the ȽÁU, WELṈEW̱ Tribal School and the W̱SÁNEĆ Leadership Secondary school to reinstate field trips, job shadowing and access other educational opportunities at their tech and science facilities, ideally creating employment opportunities and training.

“There are a lot of in-depth, technical activities happening at the observatory. It will be beneficial to get our youth involved in job shadowing and training, so they can get increased exposure to careers in science and technology,” shared Gord Elliott, Director of Operations for the WLC.

While the observatory is now closed due to COVID-19, W̱SÁNEĆ school groups are on the list for visits to the facility. 

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