By Jesse Bertel

Discover the way the Native people view the night sky and the cosmos at Ani-Noquisi. This new exhibit runs through Dec. 31 at the Museum of Indigenous People, 147 N. Arizona Ave., Prescott.

The Cherokee word Ani-Noquisi means “Star Nation” or “Star People.” The stars themselves are a nation and the front wall of this special exhibit celebrates the dual meaning.

Another of the four walls of the exhibit, titled Night Sky, is dedicated to the participation of Native people in space exploration and discovery, said Manuel Lucero, the museum’s executive director.

“This one, in particular, has to do with star people literally going to the stars,” Lucero said, pointing out the display of indigenous people who are NASA scientists. “All of these people are indigenous and they all work for NASA. This woman here, Mary Golda Ross, who just passed away in ’08, she’s the first Native American aerospace engineer. She actually helped write the manual for interplanetary travel to Mars and Venus.”

The third side of the display, titled Myth-Busting, unravels contemporary myths about ancient aliens.

“Those aren’t aliens on the cave walls,” Lucero said. “You look at that guy and then look at that guy, and I’m pointing to a Katsina doll. These are individual indigenous thoughts and creativity that have nothing to do with grays coming down.”

It also points out misconceptions and misrepresentations of indigenous culture in sci-fi narratives.

“Then you’ve got Star Trek where, you know, Captain Kirk and the Enterprise go to a planet where the Indians are still chasing buffalo and living in teepees,” Lucero said. “Of course, he takes his shirt off and makes out with the Indian princess because that’s what Kirk does.”

The fourth wall, titled Science Fiction, includes a TV screen playing Star Wars overdubbed in the Navajo language. The display explores why science fiction plots with battles against colonialism appeal to Native communities.

“Then we get into positive things where it’s more of appreciation than anything,” Lucero said. “When I was a kid, I would watch BraveStarr. BraveStarr was a Native American astronaut that went to the planet Texas and he would fight the bad guys, you know, and he would invoke the power of the wolf or the power of the cougar, the power of the bear, the power of the eagle to help him do the thing. It kind of put the whole Kevin Costner syndrome on its ear, you know, the whole white savior thing. Here it was a Native guy going to save everybody with better technology and so on and he was able to be the savior.”

A separate display is dedicated to the International Astronomical Union’s NameExoWorlds 2022 contest, which has selected Cherokee names submitted by Lucero.

Information about the star and exoplanet names and meanings is on display, along with historical context and artifacts related to the indigenous history of mapping the stars, as part of the Ani-Noquisi exhibit.

For more information about exhibits at the Museum of Indigenous People, call 928-445-1230, or visit www.museumofindigenouspeople.org.

Jesse Bertel is a reporter/videographer for the Prescott News Network. Follow him on Twitter @ JesseBertel, email him at jbertel@prescottaz.com, or call 928-445-3333, ext. 2043.

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