Thursday , February 25 2021

Reach the stars: first indigenous astronaut seeks to inspire young people



When John Herrington was released in space in 2002, he took with him an indigenous craft flute and an eagle feather, among other items important to his heritage.

As a mission specialist at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Herrington spent 13 days, 18 hours and 47 minutes at the International Space Station during this mission.

The flute and eagle feather now reside at the Smithsonian in Washington, DC, as Herrington – a member of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma – is the only Native American to leave Earth orbit, take a spacewalk, and be an astronaut.

However, he knows other Indian engineers and scientists are eager to fill their spacecraft.

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When John Herrington was released in space in 2002, he took with him an indigenous craft flute and an eagle feather, among other items important to his heritage.

As a mission specialist at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Herrington spent 13 days, 18 hours and 47 minutes at the International Space Station during this mission.



The flute and eagle feather now reside at the Smithsonian in Washington, DC, as Herrington – a member of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma – is the only Native American to leave Earth orbit, take a spacewalk, and be an astronaut.

However, he knows other Indian engineers and scientists are eager to fill their spacecraft.

"Many of my friends … want to go into space, they are following this path, but as far as I know, there is no one else," said the 60-year-old retired astronaut on Thursday. the Canadian Museum of Human Rights, designed to inspire young people.

He spoke to two groups of students: about 100 of Winnipeg's high schools attended the museum and several hundred people through remote video in 15 indigenous communities from the north of Fort Frances, Ontario, to Carcross, Yukon.

He said he sees his new mission on Earth firmly grounded in encouraging children to pursue their dreams and realize their potential.

"I have the chance to go out and share my story with children who have never had a model." "It's not what I set out to do." When I arrived at NASA, they said that you were the first indigenous astronaut. a role that I take very seriously … If I can make a difference in someone's life … it's making a difference, "Herrington said.

The Winnipeg event was supported by a partnership between CMHR and Manitoba, an association called DisruptED, an annual workshop on the future of work and technology.



<img src = "https://media.winnipegfreepress.com/images/NEP5406328.jpg" alt = "

St. Johns School's 8th grade students hear Commander Herrington at CMHR Thursday.

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RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

St. Johns School's 8th grade students hear Commander Herrington at CMHR Thursday.

Herrington retired from the US space program in 2005, and later went to the road, traversing the continental United States to Florida from Washington, a distance of more than 6,700 kilometers. He stopped at all the Indian reservations along the way and told his story.

The children at Thursday's museum filled Herrington with questions, mostly about space, including technical questions about the velocity of the speed of exit from Earth's orbit. A student asked his opinion about the Flat Earth Society; another asked if a child would be born in space, would the baby be an alien?

"I would say he is unique in the history of civilization, but I will not call him an alien," he told a wave of surprises from the audience.

With high school graduate rates among Native Canadians and Americans rising but not comparing undergraduate rates among non-indigenous students, each presentation marks a sign, he said.

"I hope they recognize (if) I can get something like that, so they can," Herrington said, adding that he had met adults over the years who said they heard his story when they were children and were inspired. .

North American indigenous cultures, like Ohio's "hill builders", reached the higher sciences long before the arrival of the Europeans. Cultures have built pyramids, erected the woodhenges and designed elaborate celestial calendars on the surface of the earth – and this story is just beginning to be appreciated, he said.

The key to success is knowing that you can not do it alone; takes people along the way to help someone succeed, Herrington said. Choose a course and find professionals with whom you can leave, he told the students.

"I had my parents, they encouraged me to go to school … Once I entered school, I was expelled early because I did not study, so I was motivated by the people I worked with, I saw the practicality of mathematics on the books and the guy I worked with convinced me to go back to school, "he said.

"So a gentleman I (escorted on tour) in college was a fighter pilot in World War II … and he convinced me to join the navy," said Herrington, who rose to the post of commander.

"People come into your life and make a difference. If I can do it for someone else, then that's what I put on Earth to do."

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Alexandra Paul

Alexandra Paul
news reporter

Alexandra is a veteran journalist who has been a member of the Winnipeg Free Press since 1987. She has been a medical doctor for almost 17 years and now specializes in coverage of indigenous issues. She is among the most versatile journalists on the paper.

Read full biography


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