The Myth of Turtle Island

Nationality: American
Primary Language: English
Age: 19
Occupation: Student
Residence: Los Angeles, CA
Performance Date: 03/31/2024


“Long ago, like before the continents looked like they do now, the old world began to flood. A bunch of animals, including a muskrat, turtle, and a man named Nanapush all ended up on a raft together. Nanapush tried to get them to swim under water to get soil so they could build a new world, but no one could reach the bottom until the muskrat did. Nanapush took the soil from the muskrat’s paws, and placed it on the back of the turtle. The soil grew wider and wider, and the animals from the raft brought plants and things to Nanapush. He would breathe life into them, and the soil on the back of the turtle eventually grew into Turtle Island, or what we know as North America today. Everything is connected and living, like the land and all animals and humans.”


The informant heard an Indigenous origin story from the Lenape tripe from her family friends when she was in her early teens. The story of Turtle Island is one that is shared by numerous Indigenous groups, however has distinct features dependent on the tribe. In addition to explaining the existence of the land we live on, the story is also retold as a way to remind people of the interconnectedness of people, and the duty people hold to the land and environment. While the Informant does not necessarily believe in the story as it conflicts with her religion, she thinks that it holds truth as it pertains to the responsibility humans hold to the environment, especially as it comes to environmental degradation.


I always think Indigenous stories about the world are interesting, because I think they are often so different from the stories told within Abrahemic religions that are more widely circulated. Ultimately, duty to the land and an understanding of relationally is common within Indigenous cultures, and given that it is an origin story, I don’t think it can be proven true or false, it simply is. As a creation story woven into the belief systems of certain Indigenous tribes, it is clear that it would heavily circulate as a core part of Indigenous beliefs. Not only would Turtle Island inform other Indigenous beliefs and traditions, but it serves to explain how this world came to be. It is also interesting as it holds similarities to the Christian/Jewish/Muslim story of Noah’s Ark and the idea of a “holy flood.” It is hard to say whether or not one story informed the other, but I think that the idea of Turtle Island ought to be a powerful reminder of the sanctity of land.