The Dark Sky Festival began in Fort Smith on Thursday with an opening ceremony, a presentation on Indigenous relationships with the stars, and a chance to observe the night sky.
While some cloud may linger on Friday night, the forecast in Fort Smith is clear overnight from Saturday into Sunday – if smoke from wildfires in the area stays away.
Events run until Sunday afternoon in Fort Smith and within Wood Buffalo National Park.
The festival first emerged as a 20-person event started by Mike Couvrette in 2012. Now, in the festival’s 10th year, up to 150 people attend.
“A couple of us were wanting to just go out, have people join us and do some star-watching,” Couvrette said of the first festival.
“We had our telescopes set up and looked at a couple different planets, and it slowly progressed from there.”
In 2013, Wood Buffalo National Park was designated a dark sky preserve. From there, said Couvrette, the festival “took off.”
While the event usually focuses on research and astronomy, this year’s festival is taking a different approach.
Dene author Richard Van Camp and Chipewyan language teacher Paul Boucher are leading a festival that will use storytelling to recognize “traditional knowledge and the Indigenous culture of the night sky,” said Couvrette.
“A lot of Indigenous knowledge is oral history, and sometimes that knowledge is lost, and that’s a tragedy. So, part of our focus is: how do we capture that knowledge?
“What’s the most respectful way of capturing this knowledge and passing it on to future generations?”
Rajiv Rawat travelled to Fort Smith from Yellowknife with his family for this weekend’s events. He says if all goes to plan, he will finish the weekend with the knowledge needed to buy his first telescope.
“I’ve always been interested in astronomy and I’m trying to get my daughters interested in constellations now,” he said.
“I’m excited for them to learn more about them this weekend, and to learn myself as well.”
Rawat was on his way to the festival last year when it was cancelled because of Covid-19 restrictions.
“It was going to be our first time, so to make it this year is really exciting and I think it will be a fun weekend,” he said. “We’re excited to learn and hopefully find out more about getting a telescope.”
The schedule this weekend includes workshops and discussions run by Van Camp and Boucher about star and moon knowledge, family medicine and the solar system.
Also included is a Zoom conversation with Roland Dechesne, past president of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada’s Calgary Centre branch, talking about the 20-year Cassini mission exploring Saturn and its moons.
A full schedule can be found on the festival website.