Turtle Island By Mankh (Walter E. Harris III)

WITH BOTH LONG & TURTLE ISLAND, MUCH WORK

 

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

 

experiences.”

 

 

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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