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New Initiative: Working Group on Culturally Sensitive Sites

Presentation #226.01 in the session “Education, Outreach, and Public Engagement”.

Published onJun 18, 2021
New Initiative: Working Group on Culturally Sensitive Sites

As astrophysicists, we are attached to thinking of ourselves as scientific heroes with our gaze focused far into the future as we experience lookback time through our observations of the night sky. We enjoy the privilege and passion of a career in astronomy. However, there is another layer to this story. We are here today because of choices and history that were made yesterday. The covid-19 global pandemic has shifted our normal and given us pause to reconsider this history, our part in the present, and our responsibility in shaping the future. Indigenous protest to the expansion of observatories revealed a different image of astrophysicists: the latest agent of long term colonization and occupation of indigenous lands. AAS members have been actively engaged in their support of the rights of indigenous communities as part of expressing their own indigenous identities and making space for other indigenous astrophysicists. Academic communities connected to the University of California and University of Hawaii have expressed their position in an open letter in support of indigenous rights by requesting that these two universities divest from Mauna Kea. Our graduate students have crafted an open letter to the astrophysics community requesting further dialogue with indigenous communities rather than relying upon police and military interventions. Observatories do have programs to facilitate improved relations with local indigenous populations, but the work is ongoing. The AAS, the Royal Astronomical Society and IAU Division C Working Group on Archaeoastronomy and Astronomy in Culture have partnered to create a new initiative focused on culturally sensitive sites. Of importance is to build an interdisciplinary group that brings together experts within the astrophysics community and beyond that have been engaged with these issues, priorities, and communities. This poster is to introduce the initiative, to report on recent activities, and to invite participation by other AAS members that are invested in these issues. The path forward can only be forged by recognizing the past and acting for our future. Einstein himself said “we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them”.

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