This is the Ojibwa story of the creation of North America, as it was told to me, during a trip to Bon Echo where I laid eyes on the sacred Mazinaw Rock. I have heard this story in a few different ways, but this the way that speaks most strongly to my heart. I love that the story focuses on Geezhigo-Quae (Sky Woman, Nokomis, The Great Mother), her strength and determination to bring her children into the world. I also love that the greatest and most powerful spirit, Kitchi-Manitou asked her for help, and that her help was needed to bring life into the world. So, though this is not the only version of this Ojibwa story, it is my favourite, and this is how it was told to me.
The Creation of Turtle Island-Ojibwa Creation Story
As told to me at Bon Echo July 2016.
Kitchi-Manitou created the universe, and after some time he thought to come back and see it. He looked around and saw that Mother Earth (Muzzu-Kummik-Quae) was well. The animals of land, sea, air, were held in balance as were the trees, the grass and the thorns. Kitchi-Manitou had another vision. He saw that something else was possible. He could put on the earth something else, something like him that could dream.
These creatures would be different. The animals of the earth he had placed by thought, but these creatures he wanted to have the power of vision–to see possibilities themselves, the way he did. It should be noted here that Kitchi-Manitou is not a person, he is an spiritual essence–he personifies the possibility of everything that is, and everything that is not. Into these new creatures, he wanted to imbue the understanding of such.
He ascended to Sky Woman (Geezhigo-Quae) and asked if she would bare his essence. She agreed and they joined together and then she was pregnant with his children. Kitchi-Manitou left and Sky Woman went down to Mother Earth to prepare for the birth. She bent trees and tanned hides and smoked meat. The curious animals of Mother Earth wondered what Sky Woman was doing and when she told them they became very excited and spread the joyous news that Kitchi-Manitou would give them the gift of his children.
The Water Manitous however were not happy to hear this news. They grew jealous and in a rage flooded the whole of Mother Earth with great waters. A pregnant Sky Woman returned to her home on the moon to consider the situation. The home she had prepared for the children of herself and Kitchi-Manitou had been swallowed by the floods and the children could not live in the water.
But, Sky Woman knew she could have a say in how things could turn out, and she would not give up. She peered down and saw there were creatures who were not under the influence of the jealous Water Manitous. They were creatures that while they could swim, they also breathed the air. the first creature she asked for help was the giant turtle, then the loon, the beaver and the little muskrat.
This is what she told them: I do not have the same powers of creation like Kitch-Manitou, but I do have the power to re-create. I need you to dive, dive deep and bring me a handful of soil that Kitchi-Manitou created and I will use it to re-create the earth.
All day the animals dove. The turtle went first, but he could not go deep enough. Then the loon and the beaver tried, but could not reach the bottom depths to bring back the handful of soil for Sky Woman. Finally the muskrat knew he must be the one to do it. He had held back all day, waiting to see if turtle, loon of beaver could make it down deep enough. Muskrats are not typically deep divers, but muskrat knew he must do this thing, to bring back the earth for Sky Woman.
Muskrat took a deep breath, and another, and another, and he dove bravely under the water, diving down, down, down as deep as he could, then forced himself to go deeper still. Sky Woman and her companions waited. And they waited. And the sun dipped down below the horizon and they still did not see the return of muskrat. Sky Woman’s moon cast its reflection in the water, and upon her face and all night they waited for Muskrat to return. It was a very long night.
At the dawn of the new day, Sky Woman was still watching the waters when she caught site of something floating in the water. As turtle swam her toward the thing, she realized that it was muskrat and he was dead. She pulled him from the water and she was so sad that he had given his life trying to save the earth for her children. As she cradled him in her arms she saw that he held something grasped tightly in his little paw. She pried it open and was overjoyed to see that it was a handful of Kitchi-Manitou’s soil! the little muskrat had done what the other, bigger animals had failed to do! Because he had helped saved her children, she reached down and breathed life back into the little muskrat and that is why we still have muskrats today!
She took the soil and breathed into it all the characteristics that would allow the beings to live on it. She then took that soil and rubbed it onto the turtle’s back. As she rubbed the soil round and round, Muzz-kummick-quae again took shape above the water and Sky Woman walked upon the soil round and round and wider and wider and the Earth was re-created. And this is why the land is called Turtle Island.
Then Sky Woman gave birth.
When Kitchi-Manitou returned he was grateful for the strength and compassion of Sky Woman. He gave her a new name: Nokomis which means The Great Mother, creator of the Anishinabeg, the Good Beings.
And the children of Kitchi-Manitou and Nokomis had their own children, and their children had children and though we all may have different names and call ourselves different peoples, we are the children of Kitchi-Manitou and Nokomis.