A few weeks back I was in Colorado looking up at the night sky. Far away from the light pollution of big cities the stars were strong and bright and there were so very many of them. I’d been chatting with the new acquaintances I’d made on my trip, but eventually we quieted and just looked up. One of our number was Navajo and he told us about how the Navajo view the sky. Where Cassiopeia sits, they they see a woman lying down. Across from her, in the area of the big dipper, a man lies down. Between them is the north star, which is part of a constellation called Northern Fire, and which depicts the hearth around which the two figures lay. Together they represent a family; the mother and the father of the home. As the year goes by the figures move around the hearth, circling it.
I don’t generally stargaze, so I’ve never thought about the different stories the sky might tell to different cultures. There are, of course, many Native American tribes with many different stories and world views, but there do seem to be similarities that run through many of them. I won’t claim authority, but my understanding is that it is a far less linear narrative than the western view. The lines between spaces – such as ceremonial or domestic, spiritual or secular, or earth or sky – are less defined. Time does not go in a line with the past behind and the future ahead. Instead it is circular so that everything cycles back – like the mother and father in the sky.
This perspective makes its way into many aspect of native cultures including storytelling. In my constant quest to widen my reading to include cultures, experiences and voices different from my own, I have put a bunch of native authors on my list. November is Native American Heritage Month, so it’s a great time to try out a new author with a new perspective. Google “native american authors” and you’ll find lists and more lists of book recommendations and author bios to choose from. Here’s three lists that offer a wide range of stories and styles.