Wednesday, July 05, 2017

A Native Perspective on the Upcoming Total Solar Eclipse

Eds. note: American Indians in Children's Literature is pleased to share this open letter about the upcoming total solar eclipseWritten by Naomi Bishop (Gila River Indian Community), currently serving as President of the American Indian Library Association, we think teachers and librarians -- and parents, too -- will find it useful. 


July 5, 2017

Dear librarians and teachers, 

Eclipse viewing glasses and library programs are big in social media and libraries right now. It is a great opportunity to share STEM programs with the public. However, some cultures view an eclipse differently. While I can’t speak for all cultures impacted, I can speak for some Native American communities. In Navajo culture the shadow that is made by the sun is very important and viewing the eclipse is not encouraged. Many Native American families visit our libraries, attend our programs, read our books and view us as part of their community. 

If you decide to host an eclipse program, please be aware that some families might not be receptive. If a family does not want to participate, respect their choice. Please avoid placing children in a position where they need to explain their beliefs or identify themselves as Native American. Give them a safe way to back out, or to decline participation. 

If you would like to learn more about Navajo Astronomy there is a great book you can order for your library called Sharing the Skies : Navajo Astronomy by Nacy Maryboy and David Begay. 

Sharing the Skies : Navajo Astronomy.
Author: Nancy C Maryboy; David Begay; Indigenous Education Institute.; World Hope Foundation. Publisher: Tucson, Ariz. : Rio Nuevo Publishers, ©2010.

Sharing the Skies: Navajo Astronomy was published by a Navajo scholar and educator. David Begay is one of the founders of the Indigenous Education Institute. He lives on the Navajo Nation and works with UC Berkeley, Space Science Labs in the areas of Western and Indigenous science with support from NASA and the National Science Foundation. Nacy Maryboy is a Cherokee/ Navajo scholar and focuses on Indigenous science and astronomy. She is President and Executive Director of the Indigenous Education Institute. This book was published as a resource for teachers and families. It is a beautiful book and an excellent collection to any library.  The authors note in the beginning of the book has this important cultural information: 
"Although this book is available year round we encourage teachers to be sensitive to the cultural protocol and use this book primarily during the winter months." 

Here are some more resources for teachers and librarians focused on Indigenous STEM programs. 

Indigenous Education Tools - University of Washington

Implementing Meaningful STEM Education with Indigenous Students & Families

Teaching STEM In Ways that Respect and Build Upon Indigenous Peoples' Rights

Indigenous Education Institute

The American Indian Science and Engineering Society 

Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science

I hope this information is helpful and encourages more learning and discussions among educators and librarians. Feel free to contact me with any questions. 


Naomi Bishop, MLIS 
Member of the Gila River Indian Community 
AILA President 2017-2018
Northern Arizona University Cline Library 
Teaching, Research, and Learning Services
Science and Engineering Librarian 


  1. thank you for your nice comments on our work. We are almost finished with our half hour planetarium show, Sharing The Skies, about Navajo astronomy as told to children by their grandparents. You can find us at
    Nancy Maryboy

    We are also doing a short video on Indigenous perspectives on eclipses - if you have any stories you wish to share please contact me. Also if you have any stories on Mars you wish to share, contact me. Thank you.

  2. I had no idea, this is fascinating and i will be looking into the links you have provided. Thank you for sharing this perspective.

  3. Were this eclipse during the main school year, it is as uncomfortable to imagine a teacher changing her STEM teaching to fit the religious beliefs of those from some Native nations as it is for the teacher to change her STEM teaching to fit the religious beliefs of those from some Bible-literalist churches. In all cases, the responsibility of the STEM teacher in the classroom is to debunk superstition and folk falsehood, and shine the light of science where it belongs. This is as true for astronomy as it is for climate change or evolution. After school or library programs are another matter, of course.

    1. The article did not ask for anyone to change the teaching. It asked for librarians, teachers give native families a safe way to decline participation and to respect their choice. I appreciate the generosity of the writer sharing this information and raising awareness.

  4. I did school programs about astronomy using a portable planetarium for several years. I was well versed in the Greek-Roman constellations. There were basic concepts I taught like movement and position of the Earth versus stars and the sun. Rarely did I have groups that I spent more than a day with so I did not share native American constellations more in that I was unsure what was correct and what was supposed.

    This is a great resource since trained scientists are creating the materials.

  5. What a lovely post! Thanks to everybody involved for the thoughtful information.

    And no,respecting the needs of a people whose religion and culture has been historically outlawed, marginalized, and which authorities have tried to erase is nothing like catering to the desires of people whose religion has been empowered for several centuries, often to the fatal detriment of those who don't practice it.


  6. I don't know anyone who has ever been forced into participating in a program at a library. If it's not something that interests you or your family then don't go. There are other people that might find an eclipse program enjoyable. As for a program at school, it may be curricuum-driven. The teacher-librarian has to follow the curriculum.

  7. Since nobody is suggesting canceling any programs, Anonymous, could you explain your point?


  8. I never said anything about canceling programs either. In the post, it states, "Give them a safe way to back out, or to decline participation. " Why would they need a safe way to back out? If they don't feel comfortable, they don't need to go. I've never known a library to ask for a reason why someone isn't attending a program.

  9. You seem to be defending the existence of such programs, though. Why do that unless you feel they're under attack?

    If an eclipse program is part of an ongoing program, a child and family might not know the content until they're at the library, at which point it would be nice for them to have an alternative activity.

    Seriously, why are you taking issue with this post? It's not attacking anything. It's providing information about how to make libraries welcoming to Native children.


  10. Veronica-- Well, in a way, refusing to acknowledge scientific facts is an attack on knowledge. It's as frustrating when Christians do it.

  11. "And no,respecting the needs of a people whose religion and culture has been historically outlawed, marginalized, and which authorities have tried to erase is nothing like catering to the desires of people whose religion has been empowered for several centuries, often to the fatal detriment of those who don't practice it."

    While I understand that, (and I'm no fan of Christianity), if science and the science presented happens to debunk religious beliefs, then so be it. If fundamentalist Christians needed a "safe way" to back out of such a presentation, there would be a lot of eye-rolling. It is the job of educators to give the facts, and if the facts conflict with fairy tales, then that is not the library's responsibility.

    And how about just announcing, "The presentation is about to begin. Yes, there is science. If you have a religious belief preventing you from acknowledging truth, then don't come over here and sit down."

  12. Anonymous,

    First of all, as a scholar who specializes in fairy tales, I am in a position to say that religious stories and beliefs are not fairy tales. If you are going to go around demanding rigor and accuracy in a given area of research, you would do well to model it yourself.

    Similarly, you continue to make parallels with Christianity in the US without acknowledging the very real power differentials between Native religions and Christianity historically and today. This does not suggest to me that you have a particularly accurate understanding of the situation.

    Scientific knowledge is not under attack from Native peoples or non-Native librarians trying to make their libraries welcoming places for Native children. Not wishing to view the shadow cast by the eclipse is not an attack on astronomy. Have you read the book Debbie recommended? Did you click on the links provided about STEM education and Native peoples? Did you find a "refusal" to acknowledge facts there?

    No. You did not. Because the only person refusing to acknowledge facts--about how US culture relates to indigenous kids--is you.


  13. You really are making a mountain out of a molehill, with "refusing to acknowledge scientific facts" this and "debunking religious beliefs" that. All this post says is that Native children may prefer not to view the shadow cast by the eclipse. Why do you feel like this is such an attack on science?

    Scientific knowledge is certainly under attack in this country, but not from Native peoples or non-Native people trying to respect them. Turn your contempt on those who merit it.


  14. I am the author of this post and I am a science librarian.I am not attacking science or STEM programs for the eclipse. I am just providing resources and information for teachers and librarians that wish to learn more. I wanted to make people aware that not everyone will participate in such programs. I am just helping raise awareness about tradition cultural protocols for librarians that may serve Navajo populations. Here is an article from 2012 about Navajos not viewing the eclipse. Indigenous Knowledge is important and the authors of the books recommended are both scientists.

  15. Veronica,

    You wrote, “All this post says is that Native children may prefer not to view the shadow cast by the eclipse. Why do you feel like this is such an attack on science?”

    And why would Native children “prefer not to view the shadow”? Via the link posted by Naomi Bishop: “People are told to stay inside and keep still during the dark period. There’s no eating, drinking, sleeping, weaving or any other activity. Traditionalists believe that not following this practice could lead to health problems and misfortune to the family.”

    I would like to acknowledge that there are many things to discuss within this issue, but among them is the idea of teaching children that an eclipse might make them sick, or that it might sicken the people they love. In other words, we are literally and seriously discussing teaching children to be afraid of a shadow. Would you still like to know how someone might see this as an attack on science?

  16. That is beyond the scope of providing alternate programs for children at a library, so yes, I would like to know how a library providing alternate programs for children whose cultural traditions are that they not view an eclipse is an attack on science.

    What you are doing is basically the equivalent of saying "Jewish parents are teaching their children that pork is an unclean food! Pork isn't unclean! This is an attack on nutrition!" That's beside the point. If you are running a program that provides food and wishes to be welcoming to Jewish children, you need not to offer an all-pork menu. It's that simple.

    The fact that you think that Native parents are so simplistic as to teach children to fear shadows, because obviously, to your mind, they couldn't possibly have any nuance or understanding of their own traditions and beliefs beyond what can be conveyed in an eight-sentence article, is absurd.

    Let me give you another few examples from my own culture's traditions.

    Ashkenazi Jews do not name children after living people. We just don't. The rationale way back when was that the Angel of Death might get confused and take the child instead of the older person. I know no Ashkenazi Jew who literally believes this. And I know no Ashkenazi Jew who would name their child after a living person. Because continuing cultural practices and honoring the beliefs that gave/give rise to them are more complicated than you allow, especially for people who were/are targets of genocide.

    You may, perhaps, be aware of Jewish unhappiness with the fact that the March for Racial Justice was accidentally scheduled on Yom Kippur. That's not because every single Jew who celebrates Yom Kippur believes that God is literally sealing the verdict on their name in the book of life on that day. It's because it's a highly significant and important day in the Jewish calendar that most Jews honor, and if you want Jews to feel welcome at an event, it's best not to schedule it for that day (and the NYC march is being held the following day). I have read articles of significantly more than eight sentences on various Native beliefs and traditions surrounding the eclipse, articles that actually interviewed members of different nations, and the situation is significantly more complex than "children are being taught to be afraid of a shadow! Horrors!"




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