The Great Beginning of Turtle Island

The Great Beginning of Turtle Island

Photo Courtesy of J.B Thomas

By Katarina Ziervogel

If you live in North America, you might be familiar with the word “Turtle Island”. It is what Indigenous People call the continent of North America as “Turtle Island”. In Ojibwe, we see the Turtle Island as the whole world. Below is a Creation tale behind the name “Turtle Island” – which, frankly, sounds cooler than North America.

It all started with the Creator of the large universe, Kitchi-Manitou who watched after every creation in the universe, especially the Mother Earth. On the nickel-silver moon in the lonely sky, there lived a feminine spirit Geezhigo-Quae, the Sky Woman, who joined the Creator in bearing his children with her love and nurture.

Soon after, Geezhigo-Quae was pregnant with Kitchi-Manitou’s children. To prepare for the birth, she went down to the Mother Earth herself, where the Sky Woman created a cozy and warm lodge out of the trees, tanned hides to cover the lodge and dried meat for the winter. The animals that walked the Earth found out what was happening and were filled with excitement, but the word spread to the Water Spirit, who was filled with rage and jealousy instead. The Water Spirit was in control of the water supply and every living being needed water. The children of Kitchi-Manitou, the most powerful spirit, would need water too, but with the Water Spirit’s powers over the water, it would be lost to them.

Blind with jealousy and rage, the Water Spirit unleashed the great flood across the entire world, leaving many animals without a home. Geezhigo-Quae quickly retreated to her moon high and up far from the Mother Earth. Kitchi-Manitou was nowhere to be seen. The entire world was under the water. The Sky Woman was devastated. But she was determined to fight back.

There were still some animals who weren’t under the Water Spirit’s spell. Those animals were the giant turtle, the loon, the beaver, and the little muskrat who all came to the Sky Woman’s aid. She told them, “I can re-create Manitou’s world, but I can’t do it by myself. I need your help. I need you to dive deep. I need you to dive deep enough that you can bring me a handful of the original soil made by Manitou. The soil will be the seed I use to re-create the Earth.” So the giant turtle went first. He tried to get as deep as he could, but the task was far too difficult. He returned to the surface, where the loon took a turn at diving, but he returned to the surface unsuccessful. The beaver was next. He tried to get to the bottom of the water, but the task was difficult for the beaver too. Finally, the little muskrat decided to give it a try. Everyone was worried for the little muskrat because muskrats don’t dive that deep. They were known to live in swamps, rivers, or lakes.

This is the crucial point in the story when you have to look past yourself and not let your inexperience hold you back from what you truly can achieve beyond your non-existent limit.

The little muskrat disappeared into the depths of water. They waited for him to reappear. The sun fell low and disappeared below the horizon. The silver moon was now bright and high in the lonely sky, and the twinkling moonlight casts a platinum-blue glow upon the Water Spirit’s calm sea. They waited. The long night turned into the dawn of the second day since the little muskrat left.

Dawn slowly created a vast path of golden glow upon the sea. The wind was eerily silent. The sky grew lighter blue. Geezhigo-Quae and the animals grew more anxious for the little muskrat. But something floating in the distance caught their eye. It was the little muskrat. The giant turtle swam towards the muskrat, but it was dead. Geezhigo-Quae and others began to weep for the little muskrat until she saw something in his hand. She pried it open and it was the soil he pulled from the very bottom of the water. The little muskrat did what others couldn’t. To honor the little muskrat for saving the Mother Earth, she brought the little muskrat back to life with her powers, hence the importance of muskrats in our culture today. Then she took the soil and rubbed it on the giant turtle’s back over and over that would soon grow into North America or the world as we know it today.