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Posts Tagged ‘respect for the Earth’

nativestories_turtles

Photo: Lukas Vermeer, Flickr
There’s a strong connection with the turtle and the story of creation in indigenous traditions. Native American tales told recently on Public Radio International include tales associated with winter and tales tied to the gradual return of life.

Most indigenous people have oral traditions about the seasons, the origins of life, and the duty to protect the Earth. Recently I heard some Native American winter stories on the radio and learned that when tales are not written down, it’s important to include the name of the person who first passed the story to you.

What follows is part of a discussion that Steve Curwood at PRI’s “Living on Earth” had with Joe Bruchac, a storyteller from the Nulhegan Abenaki tribe in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. The radio show covered traditional winter tales and Native Americans’ respect for the Earth.

“CURWOOD: Years ago, I went to visit the Menominee and I met their forester, [who] explained to me that the Menominee only cut the trees that are too old or ill and that as a forester, he was cutting trees that had been designated by the foresters before him that they had been prepared, they would be mature, and that he was going ahead to make preparations for what would be cut in later generations. …

“The Menominee were forced to give up their land, along [Lake] Michigan. But they were permitted in negotiations to keep a couple hundred thousand acres of forest land inside. And they decided that this was their legacy forever. And they started with an estimated billion and a half board feet of timber. Over the years, they’ve harvested over a billion board feet and they have more than what they started with today, because they’ve only cut with what’s too old or too ill to keep growing. It’s amazing. …

“JOE BRUCHAC: It was Stephen Marvin Askinet, who was the elder who told me that story when I was visiting Menominee. He since passed on but he was a wonderful tradition bearer. And one thing I always try to do is to remember to acknowledge those people who shared those stories with me. For example, that rabbit snow dance story can be traced back through people such as Arthur Parker, who was a Seneca storyteller and writer who recorded many of the traditions of his people. …

“CURWOOD: [Do you have a tale about] the solstice, the changing of the season, then getting dark and getting cold? …

“JOE BRUCHAC: Well, there is a tradition among the Abenaki people which has gone back for a long time, called the New Year’s greeting. And it is this when the new year comes, everyone goes from house to house, and they say …

[HE SINGS THE ABENAKI GREETING SONG]

“Which means, ‘Forgive me for any wrong I may have done to you, including wrong that I may not realize I have done to you.’ For it is important to realize that the things you do affect others around you. And sometimes you may not even know that you’ve caused an offense or hurt someone’s feelings. But at the start of the year, beginning again with those words, were able to have a clean slate. …

“As a friend of mine who is a Cheyenne elder [told me], if you carry guilt, it’s like carrying bad water in a cup. You can never fill it again with good water. Instead, pour that guilt out and then do better so that you do not accumulate more of that guilt and you can have fresh water to drink or to share. And that again, is an idea for the beginning of the new year. …

“CURWOOD: This is the time of year when we celebrate life. … Perhaps you could tell us along those lines?

“BRUCHAC: One of the traditions that I have learned over the years, my Mohawk and other Haudenosaunee, Iroquois, elders who are friends of mine, such as Tom Porter, a Mohawk elder, is that the first person who came to this earth was a woman.

“That long ago there was a land in the sky, and that a woman fell from that sky land, holding in her hand, the seeds of the flowers and plants. The birds flew up to catch her on their back, and then the great turtle swam up from below the surface of the water for only water was here. And animals began to dive down to bring up Earth.

“The one who succeeded the one who made it was the little muskrat. She brought up a paw full of Earth and put it on the back of the turtle. And then that woman stepped from the backs of the birds and began to dance in a circle with slow, small steps as women dance today in the Haudenosaunee tradition.

“The earth got bigger and bigger, and where her feet stepped and made footprints, she dropped the seeds, the flowers and the trees and the other plants. So life came to be on earth through the agency of sky woman, who is always remembered among the Haudenosaunee people as a Mother, the first Mother of us all. …

[HE TAPS A DRUM]

Which drum do we hear first? We hear the heartbeat of our mother, even before we are born. We’re listening to the music of life and dancing in that water within our mother’s body. So when we are born, we’re listening for the sound of the drum. …

“[We] say the drumbeat is the heartbeat of Mother Earth, and that we as human beings must always remember it when we hear the drum to respect our mothers and respect our Mother Earth.”

More good stories here, including the one about the rabbit who loved snow a little too much.

 

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