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Turtles hold an important place in many of our Indigenous cultures. They symbolize strength and defense, patience and wisdom, longevity, and stability. Turtles are often inspiring, meaningful, and celebrated.  Choctaw and Oneida traditions provide two examples of the symbolic place held by turtles in Indigenous cultures.

In her novel, Shell Shaker, renowned Choctaw author LeAnne Howe describes how turtle shells filled with rocks are tied around the ankles of Choctaw women. As these women dance, the turtles help Choctaw women achieve their aspirations and bring about peace.[1] 

In the Oneida creation story, as told by Amos Christijohn, a sky woman falls from the sky world down to a water-covered Earth. Sky woman lands on turtle's back and from the turtle's back grows the land today known as North America.[2] Lenape and other Haudenosaunee Confederacy have similar creation stories and  refer to North America as "Turtle Island." This terminology has been adopted by many Indigenous peoples and is often used as a powerful symbol for the world that we as Native people treasure. This symbolism can be seen throughout Indian country with two examples being the Native news outlet "Turtle Island News" and McGill University's event Turtle Island Reads. This event highlights Indigenous writing and serves to "spark conversation about Indigenous identity and the Indigenous-settler relationship by drawing out themes from the books."[3] 

Sources

[1] LeAnne Howe, Shell Shaker. San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books, 2001.

[2] As told by Amos Christjohn, Creation Story. Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, https://oneida-nsn.gov/our-ways/our-story/creation-story/.

[3] McGill University, Event: Turtle Island Reads 2018, https://www.mcgill.ca/education/turtle-island-reads-2018.