“In my paper, I argue that they did [have access to the Karman line],” Vallery said. “I started looking into it more, and I realized that there was a larger issue when it came to Indigenous peoples and how the aerospace industry is developing.”
The paper quickly made Vallery realize that long legal reviews weren’t accessible to the Indigenous communities she hoped to work with. And so, she decided to use her academic work as a springboard into a docuseries, “Upward Expansion,” on the cultural practices of Indigenous astronomy and how modern-day technology contributes to the loss of generational knowledge among Native peoples.
After wrapping up “Dan Bon Lalinn” in December, Vallery joined the UN’s Space Generation Advisory Council as part of its Ethics & Human Rights Issues in the Space Sector project. She also worked with the Chumash tribe in California as an undergraduate fellow for the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics. Vallery’s work with the Chumash, which is part of her “Upward Expansion” project as both a film and a thesis paper, began after she uncovered a story about the tribe’s connection to the Space Launch Complex 6 at the former Vandenberg Air Force Base deep in the Harvard archives, she said.
The launchpad in the central coast of California, best known as Slick Six, faced several setbacks starting in the mid-1960s, including financial shortfalls, construction delays, government program changes and cancellations, and deactivations. The Chumash protested construction at the base during the late 1970s or early 1980s, according to a 2013 Space Review article. Rumors spread that the facility had been built on a Chumash burial ground and the tribe had put a curse on it. Vallery was determined to get to the bottom of the chatter.
She spoke to two elders within the Chumash community about its sometimes uneasy but improving relationship to the aerospace industry. And the curse? Some community elders, who said they had no direct knowledge of it, suggested that it was possible as it aligns with some of the localized practices within their tribal religions, but younger generations view the rumors as “explicit weaponization of indigenous spirituality and a social scapegoating,” Vallery said.
“It’s really quite a bizarre and amazing story,” she said. “I could honestly rant about it forever.”
Vallery hopes her work will help improve Indigenous representation within the aerospace industry, something she said is sorely needed. She said she dreams of working at an organization like the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs or in film to make science more accessible to young people like her.
“Astronomy is one of the oldest fields in the world and every single culture has some type of ties to it. Yet, when a lot of people think of astronomy, or space development, it’s a very Western science,” she said.
“I think through representation, we can reimagine what would this look like,” she continued. “I truly think that the aerospace industry has a lot of potential. It’s very young.”
Haddaji, whom Vallery considers a mentor, said she doesn’t doubt Vallery’s work will make an impact. The professor noted that Vallery’s knowledge highlights an area of research that lacks greater visibility.
“I am quite confident London will make the world a better place,” Haddaji said.