Corona Borealis
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A "Council of Chiefs" in Our Sky Set the Example for Decision Making

+ Von Del Chamberlain +

It has long been recognized that ideals are the most precious things we can possess, yet history reveals that we regularly fail to appreciate the cherished concepts of people when we first come into contact with them. Perhaps this is because first contact is often made when people are searching for material riches more than for intellectual or spiritual ones. In addition, cultural biases get in the way.

Consider, for example, the many profound and beautiful environmental values we currently acknowledge from Native American cultures, values hardly noticed as people of European extract trickled, then streamed across the American continent during the last few hundred years. I want to introduce one particular archetype that is in complete accord with one of our sacred American principles, one which was well established before we came, and it's symbol is among the stars.

By about 1500 the Pawnee Indians had established their homeland in what is now northern Kansas and southern Nebraska. These Caddoan-speaking people probably first met Europeans in 1541, when the Coronado expedition searched for the "Seven Cities of Gold," which they believed existed somewhere toward the center of the American continent. From that time forward, the pressures of white people tracking westward for land, minerals and religious freedom increased to eventually drive the few remaining Pawnees out of their homeland to be resettled in Oklahoma Territory. As settlers and treasure-seekers passed through, some preached their principles to the "savages," completely unaware that many of their own values were already well established on that landscape. The finest example I can think of is symbolized by a group of stars that are not very well known to most people. The Pawnees referred to them as "The Council of Chiefs," stars that are well placed for observation in our current evening sky.

At the beginning of this century, an important member of the Skidi Band of Pawnee people described these stars. Right overhead there is a circle of stars, this is the council; in the center of this circle is one star, that is the servant of the chief, cooking over the fire.

Information revealed at that time allowed researchers to identify the stars with the region better known as Corona Borealis, the Northern Crown. The Skidi associated them with one of their most important principles, the method of making decisions by having their designated leaders sit in council to resolve issues of the day. These stars, and this principle, were so important that the smoke hole of the Pawnee lodge, round in shape and located above the fireplace at the center of the lodge, was identified with the council stars which could be observed through the smoke hole as they passed nearly through the zenith of the sky. Furthermore, these stars were closely related to the Chief Star (Polaris) and were symbolic of the primary Pawnee deity, Tirawahat, the one never visualized in physical form and said to reside at the zenith. The stars were used for setting the calendar as well as for exemplifying established cultural values.

These important stars portrayed great mythical councils where creation was planned, then carried out, as well as councils to be held on Earth. Government by council was conceived to flow from the heavens; the councils of chiefs within the villages were empowered with the authority of the stars.

I hope you have a passionate desire to be able to locate these stars in the sky. They are not very bright, yet they are easy to see once you are know where they are. Lets begin by locating the Big Dipper, high in the sky at 10 p.m. in late May, moving down to the northwest as the night deepens. Let the handle of the Dipper form an arc which extends toward the south to the brilliant, slightly reddish, star Arcturus in the constellation Bootes. Arcturus is a bit more than two full lengths of the Dipper handle away from the bowl of the Dipper along the arc formed by the handle. It stands out as the only really bright star in that region of the sky. When you are looking at Arcturus at 10 p.m. you will be facing south. Other dimmer stars of Bootes, above Arcturus to the north, can be imagined to form the shape of an ice cream cone with Arcturus at the base of thecone. Now, just to the east of the scoop of ice cream, shaped like a pentagon, you will see a half circle of stars, a crown, somewhat smaller than the ice cream scoop. One star near the center of the crown is brighter than the others; Gemma, the gem in Corona Borealis, the Northern Crown.

Since the early part of our current century it has been thought that Corona Borealis was the Pawnee "Council of Chiefs," but I now think differently. If you get out in the country on a clear, moonless night when Corona Borealis is nearly overhead--around midnight in late May--you will be able to see more stars. If you look carefully and release your mind from the traditional view of the half- circle of Corona Borealis, you will find a larger oval of stars that is more like the descriptions the Skidi Pawnee gave. There were said to be about a dozen chiefs in the group with one near the center. The larger oval does have a dozen stars and the one at the center is the same as the star marking one end of the Northern Crown.

These stars, the "Council of Chiefs" are not just beautiful to the eye: they are even more splendid to the intellect and to the essence of what we treasure as American. Nothing is more basic to our democracy than is the value of representative leadership sitting together in council, deliberating all the identifiable issues and alternatives to formulate decisions that become the roots of laws, rules, regulations and principles that we agree to live by in order that we may be as free and responsible as possible to live full, productive and enjoyable lives. I hope you will think about this as you watch these gleaming stars cross our skies.

The bright star at bottom right is Arcturus, marking the base of an imaginary ice cream cone. The rest of the cone is formed by the two stars to the upper left of Arcturus, and the scoop of ice cream by the four stars at the very top center of this view. Corona Borealis is the half-ring of stars at the center left. The larger oval, which the author suggests is the actual Chief's Council is formed by the bottom of Corona Borealis, continuing up to include the two stars on the left side of the ice cream scoop, then turning left and downward connecting dimmer stars, to come back to the bottom left end of Corona Borealis. Notice that the upper end star of Corona Borealis becomes the chief inside the council oval, the "fire tender," or servant of the other chiefs.

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