New U of T Class Merges Indigenous World Views with Astronomy


Credit: ESO.

Indigenous perspectives are a strong component of the study of astronomy, and now one U of T prof is helping to bring this important connection to the classroom.

Hilding Neilson, CLTA Assistant Professor at the David A. Dunlap Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics, has created a course for students who are interested in Indigenous perspectives, ethics, and colonization in science.

Called “Indigenous Worldviews and Astronomy,” Neilson created this third year undergraduate class because he believes viewing astronomy exclusively through a Western lens can be limiting.

“We tend to omit Indigenous perspectives and methods in this discussion, even though we live and benefit from being on Indigenous lands,” Neilson says. “By embracing Indigenous and other knowledges, we bring more lenses, and that can only enrich our view and understanding of the Universe.”

Neilson describes Indigenous knowledges as more wholistic and relational – reflecting our place on the land, and our relation to the world around us.

An example he uses to describe this is through the diverse and dynamic nature of telescope technology. He explains that an astronomer that uses infrared and ultraviolet telescopes in addition to traditional optical telescopes will be able to understand significantly more about the night sky.

The class itself will focus on understanding how we benefit from telescopes on Indigenous lands, as well as learning to appreciate the Indigenous in the night sky.

Neilson is Mi’kmaw from the Qalipu First Nation. While he didn’t grow up with Mi’kmaw culture as a large part of his life, he says he was inspired later on by a lecture from a Cree Astronomer, and tried to learn more as a result.

“I feel that learning from Indigenous knowledges have allowed me to relate and connect with the science more deeply, and to think about how I myself relate to that knowledge.”

“It has made me a better scientist.”


For more information, please contact:

Meaghan MacSween
Communications and Multimedia Officer
Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics,
University of Toronto


The Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics at the University of Toronto is an endowed research institute with more than 90 faculty, postdocs, students and staff, dedicated to innovative technology, ground-breaking research, world-class training, and public engagement. The research themes of its faculty and Dunlap Fellows span the Universe and include: optical, infrared and radio instrumentation; Dark Energy; large-scale structure; the Cosmic Microwave Background; the interstellar medium; galaxy evolution; cosmic magnetism; and time-domain science. The Dunlap Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics, David A. Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics and the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics comprise the leading centre for astronomical research in Canada, at the leading research university in the country, the University of Toronto.