IT STARTED WITH A CHANCE MEETING, A FRANK CONVERSATION AND TWO OPEN MINDS.
Now, seven years later, the Mi’kmaw Moons project has led to about a dozen presentations, the production of a book, a video series teaching Mi’kmaw word pronunciation and a greater understanding of the First Nations’ astronomical traditions and stories.
Teaching people about Moon cycles and stars, the project ties visual astronomy and Mi’kmaw storytelling together using the Two-Eyed Seeing approach, embracing both Indigenous and Western traditions in how we view the world.
The project began when Cathy LeBlanc, a member of the Acadia First Nation in Nova Scotia, reached out to Dave Chapman, a long-time member of The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. LeBlanc was working at Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site, which had just become a dark-sky preserve. She had also agreed to present dark-sky programming, which Chapman also delivered.
“Then I was asked by Acadia First Nation if I would do a program for them,” LeBlanc said. “They were doing a celebration, and they were asking me if I would come and do the story of the Moon, the Bear and the Seven Bird Hunters. I said yes.”
They then asked if she would take people outside and show them the constellations.
“I said, well, no, I can’t do that,” she said. “So I called Dave. I was really lucky to have him — I always say I had an astronomer on speed dial.”
Chapman told her that he would love to help, and the two started talking more. LeBlanc noted they spoke for hours about the Moon, using their two different lenses.
“We quickly realized that we were doing Two-Eyed Seeing. We were actually in a partnership where our knowledge was being respected, was being seen as something that was valuable to the other person, and something that we wouldn’t be able to do without each other,” she said.
Chapman said their goal is to revive the practice of recognizing the different Moon times according to what they represent to the Mi’kmaw people. He said he brings a scientific angle to the presentations, while LeBlanc focuses on storytelling and cultural aspects.
He noted the names of each of the Moons is connected with nature, aligned with the sequence of events over the cycle of a year. He used the example of the Frogs Croaking Moon, which is in the spring when the peepers are active in Nova Scotia.
The Sun’s position along the Ecliptic on the date of a full Moon determines which of the 12 sectors it falls in. That assigns the Mi’kmaw name for the full Moon. The name applies to the entire Moon time, from the prior new Moon to the following new Moon. The calendar dates of the full Moons and Moon Times are different every year. (Mi’kmaq Elders in conjunction with CBU Canada Research Chair in Integrative Science team)
|Full Moon date range (approximate)||Mi’kmaw Moon name||Mi’kmaw language|
|January 5 to February 3||Tom Cod Spawning||Punamjuiku’s|
|February 3 to March 5||Snow-Blinding||Apuknajit|
|March 5 to April 4||Maple Sugar||Siwkewiku’s|
|April 4 to May 5||Birds Laying Eggs||Penatmuiku’s|
|May 5 to June 5||Frogs Croaking||Sqolijuiku’s|
|June 5 to July 6||Trees Fully Leafed||Nipniku’s|
|July 6 to August 7||Birds Shedding Feathers||Peskewiku’s|
|August 7 to September 7||Berry Ripening||Kisikewiku’s|
|September 7 to October 8||Mate Calling||Wikumkewiku’s|
|October 8 to November 7||Animal Fattening||Wikewiku’s|
|November 7 to December 6||Rivers Starting to Freeze||Keptekewiku’s|
|December 6 to January 5||Chief Moon||Kesikewiku’s|
In the video below, around the 47-minute mark, Dave Chapman speaks how this lunar calendar remained in sync with the solar calendar. Chapman notes that historically, the Mi’kmaw looked at what was going on in nature, and if the Moon times weren’t in sync, a Moon would repeat.
Chapman also said people have shown to be “hungry” for projects like Mi’kmaw Moons. The pair have given about a dozen presentations to people from a variety of backgrounds, including Indigenous peoples and astronomers.
“We started noticing that we were getting some really interesting audiences,” Chapman said. “People who wouldn’t normally come to an astronomy talk were showing up to hear about the connection of the Moons and nature and that kind of thing. And we were also taking astronomers and saying, look at this — look at the connection.”
Chapman said both he and LeBlanc are 100 per cent volunteers in this project, which also has a Facebook page with almost 4,000 followers and a YouTube channel. A publisher approached the two and asked them to write a book — Mi’kmaw Moons: A Two-Eyed Seeing Approach is in the process of being illustrated.
Chapman said although the two are “about as different as chalk and cheese,” their differences work in their presentations.
“We support each other,” he said. “She couldn’t have done what she did without me, and there’s no way I could have done what I do without her. Without each other, we couldn’t do this.”
An important element of their project is gathering knowledge from Elders and passing it on. LeBlanc said that through the project she came to fully appreciate the tradition of storytelling and passing things on from her own ancestors. She noted that her 13-year-old niece, Holly, is involved in the project, doing a reading at the beginning of their presentations. LeBlanc is in the process of passing her knowledge to Holly.
“When we are no longer here, this will be hers,” LeBlanc said. “She will be the one to carry on this information.”
This article was first printed in the March/April 2021 issue of SkyNews.
Lead photo credit: Cathy LeBlanc, who works on Mi’kmaw Moons with Dave Chapman, said her 13-year-old niece Holly is an important part of the project, opening their presentations with a reading. (Kristine Rose Photography)