Indigenous peoples have their own versions of origin stories. These stories are in conflict with the western understandings of the world. Western science insists on the theory of Asian origins and that Bering Strait theory accounts for how Indigenous people came to exist in North America (Brownlie, 2009). Indigenous people have their own versions of how they came to exist in North America.
Indigenous people refer to North America as ‘Turtle Island.’ There are many versions of the ‘Creation Story’ that describe how ‘Turtle Island’ was created; the stories will vary from one community to another but the gist of the story is pretty similar. One version of the story is that the Creator placed Anishinaabe on the Earth. As time went on, the original people started to fight with one another. The Creator decided to purify the Earth and sent a great flood. Only Nanabush and a few animals remained. The Creation story describes how Nanabush worked with the animals to re-create a new world. Creation stories contain teachings about the importance of connection to the land (the natural environment) and all of creation. Basil Johnson’s (1976) version of the story talks about Sky-Woman (the original human) who survives and comes to rest on the back of a great turtle. The following excerpt is from Basil Johnson’s account of the Creation story:
Gladly, all the animals tried to serve the spirit woman. The beaver was the first to plunge into the depths. He soon surfaced out of breath and without the precious soil. The fisher tried, but he too failed. The marten went down, came up empty handed, reporting the water was too deep. The loon tried. Although he remained out of sight for a long time, he too emerged, gasping for air. He said that it was too dark. All tried to fulfill the spirit women’s request. All failed. All were ashamed.
Finally, the least of the water creatures, the muskrat, volunteered to dive. At this announcement the other water creatures laughed in scorn, because they doubted this little creature’s strength and endurance. Had not they, who were strong and able, been unable to grasp the soil from the bottom of the sea? How could he, the muskrat, the most humble among them, succeed when they could not?
Nevertheless, the little muskrat volunteered to dive. Undaunted, he disappeared into the waves. The onlookers smiled. They waited for the muskrat to emerge as empty handed as they had done. Time passed. Smiles turned to worried frowns. The small hope that each had nurtured for the success of the muskrat turned into despair. When the waiting creatures had given up, the muskrat floated to the surface more dead than alive, but he clutched in his paws a small morsel of soil. Where the great had failed, the small succeeded. (Johnson, 1976, p.14)
Aboriginal worldview is grounded in the Creation story. Aboriginal people view the earth as their Mother and the animals as their spiritual kin. There is an interconnectedness between all living things and we are all part of a greater whole which is called life. Aboriginal worldview is expressed through the symbol of the circle. The circle is the first design Gchi-Manido drew on the darkness of the universe before creation began (Partridge, 2010). All life begins in the east and progresses around the circle and “…all life maintains and operates within this circular and cyclical pattern” (Partridge, 2010, pg. 38). All life is cyclical – human and non-human life operates in this circular fashion (Dumont, 1989; Black Elk, in Black Elk Speaks as told through John G. Neihardt, 2014). Aboriginal culture recognizes natural law. Time was marked by the changing seasons and the rising and setting of the sun, rather than by numbers, and their existence was marked by an acceptance of and respect for their natural surroundings and their place in the scheme of things. The thinking of Aboriginal peoples was cyclical, rather than linear like that of the Europeans. Everything was thought of in terms of its relation to the whole, not as individual bits of information to be compared to one another. Aboriginal philosophy was holistic, and did not lend itself readily to dichotomies or categories as did European philosophy. So, for Aboriginal people, their rights were—and still are—seen in broad, conceptual terms (Aboriginal Justice Implementation Commission, 1999).
- What can you learn from the Ojibway Creation story that will provide clues for how Indigenous people view their relationship to the land and all of creation. How do creation stories influence values and beliefs?
- Think about your own family of origin. Where does your family come from? What sorts of stories are there that tell you about your own origins? Are there any similarities between your stories?
Expanding Your Knowledge
- The following video relates the Ojibwe Creation story:
The Ojibway Creation Story
You can access the transcript of the Ojibwe Creation video here:
How does your own story of origin compare to the Ojibwe Creation story? What are the similarities and/or differences between your story of origin and the Ojibwe Creation story?
- The following link contains a Mohawk (Haudenosaunee) teaching by elder Tom Porter on their Creation Story. How do the Ojibwe and Mohawk creation stories compare? What are the similarities and the differences between these stories?
Mohawk (Haudenosaunee) Teaching
- The following link takes you to this story about the creation of new maps that depict pre-colonial ‘Turtle Island’ Canada. What is the significance of creating this new map for Indigenous people in Canada?
New maps to depict pre-colonial ‘Turtle Island’ Canada (March 21, 2017)
- Many Ojibwe legends speak about Nanabush. Nanabush is half spirit/half human (born to an Anishinaabe-kwe (an Aboriginal woman) and a spirit being) giving him the powers of the spirit and the virtues and flaws of a human being. It is said that Nanabush was sent to teach the Anishinaabek how to live but his inability to control his humanly wants and needs often gets him into trouble. Nanabush stories are about humorous escapades and great adventures that either saves the Anishinaabek or causes them great hardship (Ojibwe Cultural Foundation, n.d.) ↵
- Excerpted from Ojibway Heritage by Basil H. Johnston. Copyright © 1976 by McClelland & Stewart. Reprinted by permission of McClelland & Stewart, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. ↵