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Solar eclipse is a time for reverence, reflection in many Native American cultures

Apr 1, 2024

A solar eclipse is a sacred time where we sit and reflect, said Sherene Goatson Ing, a member of the Navajo Nation who grew u... A solar eclipse “is a sacred time where we sit and reflect,” said Sherene Goatson Ing, a member of the Navajo Nation who grew up in northern Arizona.“The Navajo do not eat and drink or do any activity during the event; we just sit in reverence. Adobe Stock photo

For millions viewing the total solar eclipse on April 8, the event will be a celestial celebration with music, activities and food.

But for many Native American cultures, an eclipse is a time for reverence.

Jennifer Guiliano, an professor in the Department of History and affiliated faculty in both Native American and Indigenous studies and American studies at Indiana University’s Indianapolis campus, shared examples of tribes’ different beliefs about natural events.

Jennifer Guiliano. Photo courtesy of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Program Jennifer Guiliano. Photo courtesy of the Native American and Indigenous Studies ProgramDuring eclipses, many Cherokees go outside and make noise because of their belief that doing so will scare away a giant frog trying to eat the sun. The Ho-Chunk in Wisconsin believe eclipses of both the sun and moon should be respected because it is a time of transformation. The Hopi in Arizona believe an eclipse is a time to pray and for ceremony, such as presenting traditional sacred names.

Famously, Tenskwatawa, the Shawnee prophet and brother to Tecumseh, predicted the June 16, 1806, eclipse, Guiliano added. That bolstered followers to his movement to reject European influences and especially U.S. President William Henry Harrison.

“Importantly, these events provide an opportunity for contemporary peoples to continue recognizing their connection to the land and its place in their cultures,” Guiliano said.

According to Navajo tradition, when the moon eclipses the sun, the sun undergoes a rebirth.

“It is a sacred time where we sit and reflect,” said Sherene Goatson Ing, who is a member of the Navajo Nation and director of the First Nations Educational and Cultural Center at IU Bloomington.

“The Navajo do not eat and drink or do any activity during the event; we just sit in reverence,” Ing said. “Because it’s a moment of rebirth, we just try to show respect.”

During the partial eclipse in October 2023, she said the Navajo Nation closed offices so members could have quiet, peaceful time to reflect.

“I think it’s important for people to know their neighbors in the community might see the eclipse differently and have different traditions,” Ing said.

Sherene Goatson Ing. Photo courtesy of the First Nations Educational and Cultural Center Sherene Goatson Ing. Photo courtesy of the First Nations Educational and Cultural CenterWhile growing up in northern Arizona, Ing said she was taught reverence for Mother Earth because of the significance of natural events. Thunderstorms, for example, were treated as blessings because they occur infrequently in the desert and bring lifegiving water. So they also were a time for respect and reflection.

During the partial eclipse that passed over IU Bloomington in 2017, Ing was a graduate student. Classes were not canceled that day, so she struggled with balancing Navajo tradition and a class that was going to conflict with the eclipse time. Ultimately, she attended class but used the time to sit quietly and reflect.

For the April 8 eclipse, Ing said she doesn’t have tickets for any events and likely will treat the event the same way she did in 2017, using it as a time for reverence and reflection.

However, she said the celestial event isn’t treated the same by every Indigenous culture, including Native Americans. It depends on where people live, what they believe and customs they practice. Her multicultural household is an example. Ing’s husband, IU religious studies professor Michael Ing, is Hawaiian with Chinese ancestry. The traditions he learned are different, she said, so he and their two daughters viewed the partial eclipse in 2017 and probably will view the total eclipse on April 8.

“Growing up with customs and traditions, I feel they are there no matter how far away I am from the Navajo Nation. It’s important to respect other people’s beliefs,” she said. “I think it will always have that impact in my life growing up in the Navajo Nation.”

Author

IU Newsroom

Kirk Johannesen

Communications Consultant, Strategic Communications

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