Home News Total eclipse a cultural, scientific marvel 

Total eclipse a cultural, scientific marvel 

Samantha Doxtator, right, delivered a presentation on Haudenosaunee astronomy at the Mohawk Trail Longhouse earlier this year. Courtesy Christine Loft-Jones

For Samantha Doxtator, Monday’s total solar eclipse over Haudenosaunee territory is more than a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It represents a recalibration that gets to the heart of what it means to be Haudenosaunee. 

“We’ve always been doctors and lawmakers and engineers and inventors, but when you see how many connections we have to the universe, and how the universe is really part of our extended family, it helps us to remember how special we are,” said Doxtator, a personal development consultant whose work situating astronomy in Haudenosaunee culture carries on the academic legacy of her sister, Sasha, who died in 2021. 

Doxtator has presented at venues as varied as the Hayden Planetarium in New York City – one of the world’s foremost shrines to outer space – and, recently, the Mohawk Trail Longhouse, where Kahnawa’kehró:non took in her message of a universe that is an extension of Mother Nature. 

“Everything is in our creation story, the creation of the sun, and the moon, and the Earth, and the planets, and the stars. Those are all part of our creation stories, so they’re part of who we are as people,” said Doxtator, who is from the Oneida Nation of the Thames. 

The stars and planets guided Haudenosaunee ancestors as they navigated, hunted, planted, and harvested, she noted. 

She said that years ago, when she was following the Peacemaker’s journey, she was told a solar eclipse played a pivotal role in ushering in the Great Law of Peace. It was taken as a sign to come together when some were dithering, she said. She believes next week’s solar eclipse will once again bring balance, restoring the masculine and feminine energies represented by the sun and moon. 

The total eclipse – meaning the moon will completely block out the sun, with only the sun’s corona visible around it – will be experienced across a tight band over Haudenosaunee territories. 

The sun is 400 times bigger than the moon and 400 times further away, so at these precious moments – the area’s next total eclipse won’t be seen for 180 years – the moon fits the sun like a hand in a glove. 

“Scientifically they say that’s a coincidence, but in our understandings and our teachings, that’s not a coincidence. That’s strategic planning,” said Doxtator. 

In Kahnawake, it has already been announced that local schools will close for the afternoon, both to give families the chance to partake in the rare celestial event and for safety reasons – looking directly at a partial eclipse without special eyewear can cause permanent retinal damage. But with precautions, the event can be deeply rewarding. 

Courtesy Canadian Space Agency 

The Kahnawake Education Center (KEC) suggested community members go to the Montreal Science Center, which hosts an event starting at 1 p.m., well in advance of the total eclipse, although the sun will be partially blocked by the moon for hours, meaning it will be dangerous to look at the sky without protective equipment. 

Fortunately for those who haven’t had a chance to pick up specialized solar eclipse glasses, the Montreal Science Centre will be handing out 20,000 pairs. These are essential as the moon waxes and wanes over the sun during the long partial eclipse. But at the moment of totality, these glasses can be safely removed, according to Montreal Science Centre foundation manager Sara Arsenault – herself anxiously awaiting the spectacle, which she has never witnessed in person. 

“I’ve heard from friends who are astronomers, and they say it changed their life,” she said. 

At the Science Centre, the total eclipse will take place at 3:27 p.m. and last one minute and 27 seconds. The partial eclipse will begin at 2:14 p.m., but it’s recommended families get there for 1 p.m. to receive their glasses, which will be distributed free of charge, with no registration necessary. 

“It’s really fun to live it with neighbours in the community and then strangers, to live it in a large group,” said Arsenault, who will have her family by her side among the expected crowd of thousands. 

When the black moon covers the sun and darkness covers the day, the effects will be noticeable beyond the change in light, according to Arsenault. The birds will go silent, and the temperature will drop by 5-10 C. Loved ones and strangers alike will shiver together, sharing an experience like no other. 

“It’s really a communion with nature,” said Arsenault. “We can feel this when we’re looking at the northern lights or a volcano eruption, but this one is pretty special because it’s rare, and it’s not destructive like a volcano can be. It’s really a show: a show from nature.” 

Community member Christine Loft-Jones saw Doxtator present in Akwesasne and knew she had to bring the inspiring astronomy talk to Kahnawake. She helped coordinate the presentation at the Mohawk Trail Longhouse, which in turn nurtured excitement for the April 8 eclipse. 

“She does such a beautiful job of telling this story and tying it to the work that was started by her sister Sasha,” said Loft-Jones. 

But Loft-Jones does not intend to watch the celestial marvel in Kahnawake, where totality begins at 3:26 p.m. and will last 23 seconds longer than in Old Port. She and a handful of other local women will travel to an event in Ganondagan, where the moment will be steeped in cultural awareness. 

“It’s just something to see in our lifetime. We’re not going to see this again, a totality like that. You want to be around good people,” said Loft-Jones. 

“It brings us back to that connection of the bigger picture of things. We’re not just ourselves, one little person. We have that bigger connection to what’s going on in the sky, what’s going on on the Earth, and we have a responsibility to honour these things and respect them and learn about them.” 

Doxtator will be there too, and she will speak, but when the moon fully occludes the sun, a brilliant corona stretching behind, she plans only to soak up the energy, the palpable restoration she has waited so long for. 

“I’m not even going to look at it,” Doxtator said. “I don’t feel like I need to look at it.” 

marcus@easterndoor.com 

Marcus Bankuti, Local Journalism Initiative reporter 

This article was originally published in print on April 5 in issue 33.14 of The Eastern Door.

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Marcus is a journalist and managing editor of The Eastern Door, where he has been reporting since 2021 on issues that matter to Kahnawake and Kanesatake. He was previously editor-in-chief of The Link and a contributing editor at Our Canada magazine.

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Marcus is a journalist and managing editor of The Eastern Door, where he has been reporting since 2021 on issues that matter to Kahnawake and Kanesatake. He was previously editor-in-chief of The Link and a contributing editor at Our Canada magazine.