Turtle Island By Mankh (Walter E. Harris III)



by Mankh (Walter E. Harris III)



“The East gate of Turtle Island, where the Sun and the Water touch the Earth at once.”


~ Tiokasin Ghosthorse, host of First Voices Indigenous Radio



In a world of high-speed computer connections, HOV lanes, and express lines at the


supermarket, what does a turtle have to teach us? The question is only part rhetorical


because the significance of Turtle Island goes fathoms deep.



In the introductory note to his book Turtle Island with “Four Changes”, a Pulitzer Prize


winner in 1975, Gary Snyder wrote: “The “U.S.A.” and its states and counties are


arbitrary and inaccurate impositions on what really is here… Hark again to those roots, to


see our ancient solidarity, and then to the work of being together on Turtle Island.”



While many cultures — including Hindu, Chinese, African, Australian aborigines, and


Caribbean — acknowledge riding on the turtle’s back, Turtle Island is most often


mentioned by Indigenous Peoples of North, Central, and South America. On the eastern


section of Long Island the Shinnecock trace their ancestry as far back as 10,000 years or


more, yet only in 2010 were they granted federal recognition!



According to David Bunn Martine, director and curator of the Shinnecock Nation


Cultural Center and Museum, “The understanding of Turtle Island as it relates to


Shinnecock is most completely explained through some of the research of Dr. John A.


Strong. In one of his books, The Algonquian Peoples of Long Island From Earliest Times


to 1700, he explains that a Lenape or Delaware elder in the vicinity of New York City


explained the origins of first man and woman on the back of a turtle in a large, vast sea.


Since we are very closely related to the Delaware who occupied the western portion of


Long Island, this story would be applied to us as well.”



At the center of the Shinnecock Nation seal is a turtle. Martine, who designed the seal,


says: “The turtle is in the center because it figures prominently in the origin stories of the


people. The turtle is in the water with a rising sun representing a bright future for the


Shinnecock people.”



Turtle Island lore tells of Sky Woman . . . who came down through a hole in the sky . . .


and landed on the turtle’s back. All else was water. Then, various animals volunteered to


dive deep in search of finding a bit of dirt or mud (from the bottom of the ocean). Once


found, that bit of earth, placed on the swimming turtle’s shell, served as the ‘seed’ of the


planet aka Mother Earth.



Fast forward (pardon the oxymoronic nature of that phrase) to today’s polar ice cap melt,


rising sea levels, and the greater potential for coastal flooding — Long Islanders, as well


as city dwellers, would be wise to tune in to the cooperation and compassion needed to


sustain life on this fore-flipper of Turtle Island.



Martine says that Turtle Island represents “earth energies and it also has meaning for the


origins of its spiritual legends or spiritual stories which pertain to locations where


spiritual beings carried out various activities in the distant past. These bring great


meaning to specific locations which impact the origin stories of the various belief


systems of the people. Some Shinnecock or native people would carry this knowledge by


modern research, by oral history, or by direct experience through visions or spiritual





So, how do those unfamiliar with the concept catch a ride on the turtle’s back and help to


keep her, and all of us, afloat? For starters, with houseplants in winter, gardening during


the warmer months, prayers and meditations any time, and by not throwing trash out car


windows anyone can nurture the connection.



According to Lorraine Simone, M.S, Ed., aka Deep Arrow Woman, founder of Moonfire

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