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Native American Turtle Mythology

Turtles play positive roles in the folklore of many Native American tribes. In the creation myths of some East Coast tribes (such as the Iroquois and Lenape), the Great Spirit created their homeland by placing earth on the back of a giant turtle. This is why some contemporary Native Americans refer to North America by the name "Turtle Island." Turtles are a symbol of the earth in many different Native cultures. To Plains Indians, turtles are associated with long life, protection, and fertility. In some Plains tribes, a newborn girl's umbilical cord was sewn into a figure in the shape of a turtle to ensure her health and safety. In other tribes, turtles are often associated with healing, wisdom, and spirituality.

Turtles are also used as clan animals in some Native American cultures. Tribes with Turtle Clans include the Chippewa (whose Turtle Clan and its totem are called Mikinaak,) the Menominee (whose Mud Turtle Clan is named Maehkaenah,) the Huron-Wyandot (who at one point had four different turtle clans: mud turtle, water turtle, striped turtle, and great turtle,) and the Abenaki, Shawnee, and Iroquois tribes. The turtle was also the special tribal emblem of the Lenape Delawares, who have a Turtle Dance among their tribal dance traditions. On the Northwest Coast, the sea turtle is sometimes used as a totem pole crest.

Native American Turtle Gods and Spirits

Kahaila (Hopi)
Mikcheech (Micmac)
Tolba (Abenaki)

Native American Legends About Turtles

*Indian Turtle Island Legend * The Turtle and the Flood: Abenaki Creation Story * Turtle Island * Lenape Creation * Iroquois Creation Myth:
    Woodland Indian stories about the earth being placed on the back of a turtle.
Glooskap and the Turtle Story * The Changing of Mikcheech * Kluskap and his Uncle Turtle:
    The adventures of Glooskap and his uncle the Turtle.
*Turtle Gets a Shell * A House for Tortoise:
    Chippewa and Ottawa Indian legends about how turtles got their shells.
*How the Turtle Flew South for the Winter:
    Oneida legend about Turtle's impatience getting him into trouble.
*Turtle Goes to War:
    Potawatomi legend about the turtle people trying to attack a human village.
*The Painted Turtle Legend:
    Illinois Indian story about a woman who married a turtle.
*Arapaho Deluge Story * The Creation of the World:
    Arapaho and Gros Ventre myths about Turtle the Earth-Diver bringing earth for the new world.
*The Voice, the Flood and the Turtle:
    Caddo myth about Turtle saving the world from four deadly giants.
*Coyote And Turtle Run A Race:
    Caddo legend about Turtle using his wits to win a race with Coyote.
*The Turtle Who Carried The People Away:
    Caddo legend about a turtle who punished people who accidentally disrespected it.

Recommended Books of Turtle Stories from Native American Myth and Legend

Turtle's Race With Beaver:
    Lively children's book illustrating a Seneca legend about Beaver being outwitted by the slower but cleverer Turtle.
A World of Turtles:
    Collection of turtle folklore from all over the world, including ten different Native American tribes.
Jabuti the Tortoise: A Trickster Tale from the Amazon:
    Colorful picture book for kids telling the story of the trickster turtle Jabuti from the Tupi-Guarani tribes of Brazil.
How the Turtle Got Its Shell:
    A nice retelling of a Chippewa Indian legend about Nanabosho's gift to Turtle.
Remaking The Earth:
    Picture book based on Blackfoot and Arapaho myths about the creation of Turtle Island.
How Turtle's Back Was Cracked:
    Picture book based on a Cherokee legend about Turtle paying the price for his bragging.
Spirits of the Earth: A Guide to Native American Nature Symbols, Stories, and Ceremonies:
    Book by a Karuk elder about the meaning of Indian animal spirits, including a chapter on turtles.
Native American Animal Stories:
    Great collection of tales about American Indian turtles and other animals, told by Abenaki storyteller Joseph Bruchac.
Turtle Island: Tales of the Algonquian Nations:
    Collection of legends from the Algonquian tribes.



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