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.