What is Turtle Island?

The following is one of our Creation stories from the Anishinabe people:

Long ago, after the Great Mystery, or Kitchi-Manitou, first peopled the earth, the Anishinabe, or the Original People, strayed from their harmonious ways and began to argue and fight with one another. Relation turned against relation and soon the Anishinabe were killing one another over hunting grounds and other disagreements. Seeing that harmony, kinship, and respect for all living things no longer prevailed on Earth, Kitchi-Manitou decided to purify the Earth. He did this with Water.

The Water came in the form of a great flood, upon the Earth destroying the Anishinabe people and most of the animals as well. Only Nanaboozhoo, the central figure in many of the Anishinabe oral traditions, was able to survive the flood, along with a few animals and birds who managed to swim and fly. Nanaboozhoo floated on a huge log searching for land, but none was to be found as the Earth was now covered by the great flood. Finally, Nanaboozhoo spoke.

“I am going to swim to the bottom of this water and grab a handful of Earth. With this small bit of Earth, I believe we can create a new land for us to live on with the help of the Four Winds and Kitchi-Manitou.”

So Nanaboozhoo dove into the water and was gone for a long time. Finally, he surfaced, and short of breath told the animals that the water was too deep for him to swim to the bottom. All were silent. Finally, the Loon spoke up. “I can dive under the water for a long way, that is how I catch my food. I will try and make it to the bottom and return with some Earth in my beak.”

The Loon disappeared and was gone for a very long time. Surely, thought the others, the Loon must have drowned. Then they saw her float to the surface, weak and nearly unconscious. “I couldn’t make it, there must be no bottom to this water,” she gasped. Then the Helldiver came forward and said “I will try next, everyone knows I can dive great distances.” So the Helldiver went under. Again, a very long time passed and the other thought he was surely drowned. At last he too floated to the surface. He was unconscious, and not until he came to could he tell the others that he was also unable to reach the bottom.

Many more animals tried but failed, including the Mink, and the Turtle. All failed and it seemed as though there was no way to get the much needed Earth from the bottom. Then a soft, muffled voice was heard. “I can do it,” they spoke softly. At first no one could see who it was that spoke up. Then, the little Muskrat stepped forward. “I’ll try,” they repeated. Some of the other, bigger, more powerful animals laughed at the muskrat. Nanaboozhoo spoke up. “Only Kitchi-Manitou can place judgement on others. If Muskrat wants to try, they should be allowed to.”

So, Muskrat dove into the water. They were gone much longer than any of the others who had tried to reach the bottom. After a while Nanaboozhoo and the other animals were certain that Muskrat had given their life trying to reach the bottom. Far below the water’s surface, Muskrat, had in fact reached the bottom. Very weak from the lack of air, they grabbed some Earth in his paw and with all the energy they could muster, they began to swim to the surface. One of the animals spotted muskrat as they floated to the surface. Nanaboozhoo pulled Muskrat up onto the log and said “Muskrat went too long without air, they are dead.” A song of mourning and praise was heard across the water as Muskrat’s spirit passed onto the spirit world.

Suddenly, Nanaboozhoo exclaimed, “Look, there is something in their paw!” Nanaboozhoo carefully opened the tiny paw and revealed a small bit of Earth. The animals all shouted with joy. Muskrat sacrificed their life so that life on Earth could begin anew.

Nanaboozhoo took the piece of Earth from Muskrat’s paw, and Turtle swam forward and said, “Use my back to bear the weight of the piece of Earth. With the help of Kitchi-Manitou, we can make a new Earth.”

Nanaboozhoo put the piece of Earth on Turtle’s back. Suddenly, the wind blew from each of the Four Directions and the tiny piece of Earth on Turtle’s back began to grow. It grew and grew until it formed an island in the water. The island grew larger and larger, but still Turtle bore the weight of the Earth on his back. Nanaboozhoo and the animals all sang and danced in a widening circle on the growing island. After a while, the Four Winds ceased to blow and the waters became still. A huge island sat in the middle of the water, and today that island is known as North America.

Indigenous people of Turtle Island hold special reverence for the turtle who sacrificed his life and made life possible for the Earth’s second chance. To this day, the muskrat has been given a good life. No matter how much destruction is done to their homes, they continue to survive and multiply. The muskrats do their part today in remembering the great flood, as they build their homes in the shape of the little ball of Earth and the island that was formed from it.

Story adapted from: http://turtleislandeducate.com/about/turtle_island

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