Turtle Island…so much more than just a story
The confounding thing about the western culture that whites call the “American West” is that it was created in absolute ignorance of the cultural way of life of the native communities it displaced. It was only after most Native American peoples were ‘safely confined’ on reservations that white people began to recognize the achievements of native story tellers and to realize the intimate relations their stories and songs shared with the earth.
To speak of native oral traditions one must grasp that though diversity of languages exist, the tradition is the same. Four major themes are evident.
- The Sacred
- A Beauty
- The Place
- The Community
Each of these elements is interwoven into story and song since native philosophies are holistic…inclusive of all things on Earth as is told in the Turtle Island story, that man rose out of the earth, from its soil, its breath and its soul.
Religion permeates all of Native American life. The same is true of language, mere words or symbols to Western society, yet native language is the means to contact the Sacred powers that inhabit and preserve all things. The Sacred in turn gives language meaning and power. The Sacred preserves and celebrates the relationship
of all things and maintains its fragile balance and harmony.
The American Indian expresses this balance and harmony of life in the patterned rhythmic beauty of story and song. For example, to honor the Black Hills is to admire is intense beauty and the awe it instills in one who truly ‘sees it, becomes it’. Lakes, streams, trees, and wildlife are beautiful and a reflection of the nature man is capable of. All things co-exist in the acknowledgment of beauty. A new beautiful creation rose from the small clump of dirt gathered at the depths of the sea that was placed on Turtle’s shell.
The beautiful and the sacred are always linked to particular places. This connection with the land and one’s environment is essential to Native American thought. Many stories recount the history and migration of tribes who felt a sense of well-being and harmony when they were within the embrace of a sacred spot. For example, the Lakota revere the Black Hills. In some cases, an area is connected with the mythic beginnings of a tribe in that place just as The Turtle Island story connects man’s origins with new life rising from a bit of earth placed upon a turtles back. Meaning and a sense of community are derived from a sense of place.
Historically, among the Native Americans there has existed a pervasive and central idea of community. It extends beyond the human to include everything animate and inanimate. All are reminded that they are but a small part of a vast whole. Thus, many of the stories focused upon that time when it was understood that though things may look different in physical appearance…the spirit in all life is the same.
Version of the Creation StoryLakota Creation Story