In a unique marriage of high-tech science and traditional Native American teachings, NASA science educators and the Lakota Nation will welcome the arrival of spring and exchange knowledge of the stars in the Black Hills of South Dakota on March 19-21.

During the traditional Lakota Spring Gathering of more than 1,000 members of the Lakota Nation, Lakota elders will share their traditional star teachings, and JPL educators will provide telescopes and computers as astronomy aids.

"We hope to excite Lakota youth about NASA space science and see what we can learn from this cultural interchange," said JPL science educator Richard Shope. "We are exploring the connections between recent space findings and traditional Lakota star knowledge."

"My people once hunted for buffalo - now we hunt for knowledge," said Chief Joseph Chasing Horse, spiritual leader for the event. For the Lakota people, the Spring Gathering marks the time when the Sun travels with the traditional Dried Red Willow constellation. Throughout Lakota history, it was a time of migration for hunters who followed the movements of buffalo herds.

The gathering will include students from eight rural tribal schools, along with their family and friends. On Saturday, March 20, JPL science educators will host a star-watching session, and students will participate in hands-on, interactive astronomy lessons. On the first day of spring -- Sunday, March 21, known as the vernal equinox -- the Lakota will host a ceremonial hike, and Lakota elders will share their traditional star knowledge through talking circles, singing and dancing.

"We have come to your classroom, and we now invite you to come into our classroom," said Chasing Horse. In a program sponsored by NASA's Native American Initiative, he is working with JPL representatives to help develop education materials that join traditional Lakota teachings with modern science. Chasing Horse, a direct descendant of the spiritual leader Crazy Horse, serves as ambassador to the United Nations for the Lakota Sioux Nations.

At the Black Hills gathering, JPL will present to the Lakota people several large prints of an image of the Black Hills as taken from the Space Shuttle.

JPL is participating in the event through a program called "From the Outer Planets to the Inner City" designed to bring space science to urban and rural classrooms. JPL staff members attending the Black Hills gathering include representatives of the Laboratory's Outer Planets/Solar Probe project, the Cassini mission to Saturn and the Telescopes In Education program.

A larger, public gathering to mark the arrival of summer will be held from June 21 to 25 in the Black Hills.

JPL manages the Outer Planets/Solar Probe project and the Cassini program for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, DC. JPL is a division of California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA.

News Media Contact