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The Plaskett telescope, housed in this National Research Council’s Dominion Astrophysical Observatory building, is celebrating a hundred years of great astronomical discoveries.

For 100 years, the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory’s Plaskett telescope outside Victoria has been helping the world understand the skies, including binary stars, black holes and the Milky Way.

The scientists there have been doing their work on the territory of the Saanich First Nations. As thanks and to mark the telescope’s centennial, Asteroid 402920 has been renamed Tsawout, after one of the Saanich Nation’s five bands.

“It’s really neat to have that because it shows respect to the Tsawout Nation as a whole; to me that goes a long ways in building a relationship,” Chief Harvey Underwood said following the naming at the Canadian Astronomical Society’s annual conference in Victoria last week.

“It really is an honour.”

Kim Venn, director of the Astronomy Research Centre at the University of Victoria, said the construction of the Plaskett telescope in 1918 “is pretty much the reason Canadian astrophysical research exists at all.”

According to the National Research Council, the telescope was the first major science project to be publicly funded in Canada. It’s named for John Stanley Plaskett’s important work on the structure of the Milky Way.

But Dr. Venn said that it’s important for astrophysicists and other scientists to incorporate Indigenous knowledge into their perspectives and research.

“I think my entire community is interested in listening to Indigenous knowledge,” she said. “We want to listen and want to learn more.”

But Chief Underwood noted the WSÁNEĆ people on Vancouver Island have looked to the stars for a lot longer than 100 years.

“The moon governed our seasons to fish, hunt and gather,” he said. “It’s quite neat that we had the science of that a thousand years ago.”

The WSÁNEĆ have historically tracked lunar cycles and recognized 13 different moons. Late-May to early June marks the moon CENTEKI, or the sockeye moon when the sockeye salmon would return to the straits around Vancouver Island and could be harvested. Other moons mark the coming of winter, spring harvest or strong winds.

Nick Claxton is an assistant teaching professor at the University of Victoria and a member of the Tsawout Nation. He says that the geography of Tsawout land has historically played into a reliance on the stars.

“Because our traditional territory is just as much marine environment as it is land, the knowledge of the tides and the currents and obviously the moon plays a big part,” he said.

He emphasized that institutional acts such as renaming Asteroid (402920) “Tsawout” – which translate to “houses on the hill” from the WSÁNEĆ language − are a way of valuing and promoting Indigenous knowledge.

“We’re still struggling to have our knowledge passed on to future generations, so this helps. It creates a sense of value and sense of identity,” Mr. Claxton said.

At the Canadian Astronomical Society’s annual conference, which wrapped up at the University of Victoria on the weekend, Mr. Claxton gave workshops on how to integrate local Indigenous perspectives into education.

Because of the significance of the cosmos to his community, Mr. Underwood agreed the naming of the asteroid feels particularly special.

“Now, every time I look up in the sky at night, I know there’s something out there that’s named Tsawout,” he said. “It’s kind of like a birthmark out there in the stars.”

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