Long ago, people learned to organize the sky into recognizable patterns. They connected the brightest stars together, imagining the outlines of gods and ancestors. These imaginary outlines are called constellations.

Today there are a total of 88 constellations that cover both the northern and southern hemispheres. Certain constellations and planets that can be seen with the naked eye are important to the beliefs of the Blackfoot Anishinabe and Cree of North America, and the Indigenous Australians. We know they are important because stories have been told about them for generations. These stories provide traditional knowledge that reinforces cultural beliefs and serves as a moral, ethical and practical guide.
Long ago, people learned to organize the sky into recognizable patterns. They connected the brightest stars together, imagining the outlines of gods and ancestors. These imaginary outlines are called constellations.

Today there are a total of 88 constellations that cover both the northern and southern hemispheres. Certain constellations and planets that can be seen with the naked eye are important to the beliefs of the Blackfoot Anishinabe and Cree of North America, and the Indigenous Australians. We know they are important because stories have been told about them for generations. These stories provide traditional knowledge that reinforces cultural beliefs and serves as a moral, ethical and practical guide.

© Canadian Heritage Information Network, 2003

M51

The Whirlpool Galaxy, M51, is a spiral galaxy located just off the end of the handle off the Big Dipper.

Canada-France-Hawii Telescope

© CFHT


Throughout history, many peoples around the world have considered the Pleiades to be sacred. By observing the position of the Pleiades in the sky, people know when to plant, harvest, and hunt. Many ceremonies take place as the Pleiades crosses the centre of the sky at midnight.

The Pleiades is sometimes called the Seven Sisters, since you can see seven stars with the naked eye (if you have excellent vision). This constellation looks like a tiny dipper, and is often mistaken for the Little Dipper.

The Pleiades isn’t really a constellation, it’s a star cluster in the northwest corner of the constellation called Taurus the Bull. Pleiades is visible during the winter and early spring in the northern hemisphere and from November to February in the southern hemisphere.

Behgonay Geeshik (Anishinabe) or Pakone-Kisik (Cree) is translated into English as the Hole in the Sky. It is called the Pleiades in English. This is the Hole in the Sky through which Sky Woman descended to the Earth.
Throughout history, many peoples around the world have considered the Pleiades to be sacred. By observing the position of the Pleiades in the sky, people know when to plant, harvest, and hunt. Many ceremonies take place as the Pleiades crosses the centre of the sky at midnight.

The Pleiades is sometimes called the Seven Sisters, since you can see seven stars with the naked eye (if you have excellent vision). This constellation looks like a tiny dipper, and is often mistaken for the Little Dipper.

The Pleiades isn’t really a constellation, it’s a star cluster in the northwest corner of the constellation called Taurus the Bull. Pleiades is visible during the winter and early spring in the northern hemisphere and from November to February in the southern hemisphere.

Behgonay Geeshik (Anishinabe) or Pakone-Kisik (Cree) is translated into English as the Hole in the Sky. It is called the Pleiades in English. This is the Hole in the Sky through which Sky Woman descended to the Earth.

© Canadian Heritage Information Network, 2003

The Big Dipper is the brightest part of a constellation called Ursa Major-the Great Bear. By itself, the Big Dipper iscalled an asterism-a group of bright stars that have a familiar shape, but are only part of a larger constellation.

The Big Dipper can be seen from most of the northern hemisphere. The seven dipper stars are easily visible to the naked eye, and they do look a lot like a dipper. Since the Big Dipper is near Polaris-the North Star-it appears to swing around the North Pole throughout the year.
The Big Dipper is the brightest part of a constellation called Ursa Major-the Great Bear. By itself, the Big Dipper iscalled an asterism-a group of bright stars that have a familiar shape, but are only part of a larger constellation.

The Big Dipper can be seen from most of the northern hemisphere. The seven dipper stars are easily visible to the naked eye, and they do look a lot like a dipper. Since the Big Dipper is near Polaris-the North Star-it appears to swing around the North Pole throughout the year.

© Canadian Heritage Information Network, 2003

Great Bear

The Big Dipper is part of the constellation called the Great Bear. You can see the dipper shape in the top part of the image. | © Centre of the Universe (CU).

Centre of the Universe (CU)

© Centre of the Universe (CU)


The Southern Cross is also called "Crux" (Latin for cross). Four bright stars form the cross and it’s the tiniest constellation in the sky. The Southern Cross is visible only in the southern hemisphere. It contains a beautiful star cluster called the Jewel Box.

The Southern Cross is also called "Crux" (Latin for cross). Four bright stars form the cross and it’s the tiniest constellation in the sky. The Southern Cross is visible only in the southern hemisphere. It contains a beautiful star cluster called the Jewel Box.

© Canadian Heritage Information Network, 2003

The Southern Cross

The Southern Cross.

Centre of the Universe (CU)

© Centre of the Universe (CU)


Indigenous peoples’ knowledge of astronomy, which assisted in telling time, direction, and weather, was vital to survival. Below is a list of the names of some of the planets, stars, and constellations according to the Cree and Anishinabe people of Manitoba, Canada. These two distinct peoples share a long history as they have lived near one another for centuries and share territory, particularly in Ontario, Canada.

Amisk Achak (Cree), or Amik Anung (Anishinabe), is translated into English as the Beaver stars. This constellation is called Gemini on star charts.

Anungokwun (Anishinabe) is translated into English as the Star World, or the Universe.

Beedabun-Anung (Anishinabe,) or Petapun Achak (Cree), is translated into English as the Coming Dawn Stars. The smaller star is called Gamma Aquila on star charts. This star rises first. The second to rise, and larger star, is called Altair on star charts. The Coming Dawn Stars are the children of the Morning Star. They rise before her, in the false dawn, and are aligned one above the other so that they point to where she will appear.

Behgonay Geeshik (Anishinabe), or Pakone-Kisik (Cree) Read More
Indigenous peoples’ knowledge of astronomy, which assisted in telling time, direction, and weather, was vital to survival. Below is a list of the names of some of the planets, stars, and constellations according to the Cree and Anishinabe people of Manitoba, Canada. These two distinct peoples share a long history as they have lived near one another for centuries and share territory, particularly in Ontario, Canada.

Amisk Achak (Cree), or Amik Anung (Anishinabe), is translated into English as the Beaver stars. This constellation is called Gemini on star charts.

Anungokwun (Anishinabe) is translated into English as the Star World, or the Universe.

Beedabun-Anung (Anishinabe,) or Petapun Achak (Cree), is translated into English as the Coming Dawn Stars. The smaller star is called Gamma Aquila on star charts. This star rises first. The second to rise, and larger star, is called Altair on star charts. The Coming Dawn Stars are the children of the Morning Star. They rise before her, in the false dawn, and are aligned one above the other so that they point to where she will appear.

Behgonay Geeshik (Anishinabe), or Pakone-Kisik (Cree), is translated into English as the Hole in the Sky. It is called the Pleiades in English. This is the Hole in the Sky through which Sky Woman descended to the Earth.

Cheepahi Meskanaw (Cree) is translated into English as the Spirit Road. This is the path marked across the sky by the Milky Way galaxy when it is turned westward. According to traditional beliefs, the spirit of a person who dies on Earth ascends into the star world, then dances along this path to the place of eternal happiness in the west, beyond the setting Sun. In the Anishinabe language, the Milky Way is called Binessiwi Mekuna, the Bird’s Path. In autumn, when it points south, the birds follow it. In spring, it turns north and the birds follow it back again.

Cheepayak Nemitowak (Cree) is translated into English as The Spirts Dancing. This phenomenon is called Wawatay in the Anishinabe language. In the English language this phenomenon is called the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis. According to traditional Aboriginal beliefs, the Northern Lights are the Spirits dancing as they proceed westward through the star world to their final destination.

Chi-Okimah Anung (Anishinabe), or Kisci-Okima-Achak (Cree), is translated as the Great Chief Star, or King Star, and is called Vega in English. The King Star controls all the other stars and assigns them their roles, so that there is nothing on Earth that does not have a ruling spirit or star in the heavens. The King Star controls the force of gravity and causes the water to be lifted off the lakes and rivers. He stores it up and later releases it to cause snowfalls.

Ishpiming (Anishinabe) is translated as the Heavens.

Kisikaw Achak (Cree), or Geezhigo Anung (Anishinabe), the Day Star, is the planet Venus when seen during the day. Since Kisikaw Achak, or Geezhigo Anung, is really a planet orbiting the Sun, its position cannot be fixed on a star map.

Kewatino Achak (Cree), or Keewatin Anung (Anishinabe), is translated into English as the North Star. The North Star is also called Polaris.

Maskote Pisike (Cree), or Mushkoday Beezheeke (Anishinabe), is translated into English as the Buffalo. This is the constellation Perseus. The buffalo is the guardian of the Shaking Tent ceremony. In the winter, the Buffalo Star can be easily seen, but in the summer, she is barely visible because she is on Earth, feeding and helping indigenous peoples.

Mikinaw (Cree), or Mikinak (Anishinabe), is translated into English as the Turtle Star. This star is called Capella on star maps. The turtle is the teacher and interpreter of the Shaking Tent ceremony. The Atasokans (spirits) speak in their own language, and the turtle interprets what they are saying to the people.

Matootsan (Cree), or Madodisswun (Anishinabe), is translated into English as the Sweat Lodge. It is called Corona Borealis, or the Northern Crown, in English.

Mokwachak (Cree), or Maung Anungonse (Anishinabe), is translated into English as the Loon. It is called Delphinus on star charts.

Myeengun Anung (Anishinabe) is translated into English as the Wolf. The wolf is brother to Nanabush and walks the star world with him. It is called Canis Major on star charts.

Nanabush Anung (Anishinabe) is the Nanabush. Nanabush is the elder brother and teacher of the Anishinabe. It is also called Misabe by some Anishinabe speaking people, which translates into English as the Giant. In Cree language, it is called Mistapiw, also translated as the Giant. This constellation is called Orion in English.

Nakapahanachak (Cree), or Ningabi Anung (Anishinabe), is translated into English as the Western Star. This is the planet Venus, seen as the Evening Star. Since the Evening Star is really a planet orbiting the Sun, its position cannot be fixed on a star map.

Ochekatak (Cree), or Odjig Anung (Anishinabe), is translated into English as the Fisher. There is a book called Murdo’s Story that tells how the Fisher came to be. The Fisher is called the Big Dipper or Ursa Major in English.

Ochakatakos-iskewew (Cree), or Odjig Anungonse (Anishinabe), is translated into English as the Little Fisher Stars, or Little Fisher. In the English language, it is called the Little Dipper, or Ursa Minor. Kewatino Achak (Cree), or Keewatin Anung (Anishinabe), the North Star, forms the end of the Little Fisher’s tail.

Pisim (Cree), or Keesis (Anishinabe), is translated as the Sun, in English.

Sawanachak (Cree), or Shawan Anung (Anishinabe), is translated into English as the Southern Star. This is the planet Jupiter as seen in the south. Since Sawanachak or Shawan Anung is really a planet orbiting the Sun, its position cannot be fixed on a star map.

Tipiskawi Pisim (Cree), or Tibiki Keesis (Anishinabe), is translated into English as the Moon.

Wapan Achak (Cree), or Wabun Anung (Anishinabe), is translated into English as the Dawn, or Eastern Star. This is the planet Venus seen as the Morning Star. Wapan Achak or Wabun Anung is really a planet orbiting the Sun, so its position cannot be fixed on a star map.

This information is from The Native Language Program, Grades 7-12, published by Native Education Branch of Manitoba, Canada.

© Canadian Heritage Information Network, 2003

Learning Objectives

The learner will:

  • Develop enthusiasm and continuing interest in the study of science
  • Describe several constellations in words and pictures
  • Appreciate the importance of astronomy to indigenous peoples
  • Develop Anishinabe and Cree vocabulary

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