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Dr. Hilding Neilson

Hilding Neilson

Dr. Neilson has integrated Indigenous methodologies and ways of knowing into his research in astronomy. (Credit: Dr. Hilding Neilson)

  • Job title: Astronomer
  • Mi'kmaq from the Qalipu First Nation of Ktaqmkuk Newfoundland and Labrador
    Ktaqmkuk is the island of Newfoundland and means "across the waters."

Dr. Hilding Neilson studied astrophysics and mathematics at St. Mary's University in Halifax and completed his PhD in astronomy at the University of Toronto. His postdoctoral research brought him to Germany and the US. He then came back to Canada to teach at the David A. Dunlap Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of Toronto.

His research focuses on the stars and planets and particularly understanding the physics of how stars work and how they influence the planets. He approaches his work by asking, "How does my work impact or influence Indigeneity?" (or conversely, "How does Indigeneity impact my understanding of my work?")

Recently, Dr. Neilson listened to Knowledge Keeper Wilfred Buck tell Cree stories of astronomy like The Bear Constellation and The Three Dogs. He wonders why they, along with the Mi'kmaq stories and knowledge, are not part of academia. He has integrated Indigenous methodologies and ways of knowing into his research as opposed to looking at things from a strictly Western perspective.

"Astronomy as a science is a very interesting phenomenon since there is only one sky. So when teachers and educators talk about science, physics and understanding constellations, that's all coming from one view of the sky where our Elders and our Knowledge Keepers have a whole different view and perspective. Indigenous students come with a whole set of skills and understandings that most Western or non-Indigenous scientists do not have. Hopefully, Indigenous students will take the time to embrace that knowledge and to think about how to use it to better understand our universe from both lenses."

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