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Native American Legends

Turtle gets a Shell

An Anishnabe (Anishinabe) Legend

It was one of those days when Nanaboozhoo was in a strange mood. He had just awakened from a deep sleep that was disturbed by the noisy quarreling and scolding of the blue jays. He was a bit cranky; his sleep was disturbed and besides that, he was hungry. His first thought was to down to the village and find something to eat.

Entering the village, he came across some men cooking fish. They had their camp located close to the water and Nanaboozhoo spied many fish cooking over a fire. Now, being very hungry, he asked for something to eat. The men were happy to give him some, but cautioned him that is was hot. Not heeding their warning, he quickly grabbed the fish and burned his hand. He ran to the lake to cool it off in the water. Still unsteady from his deep sleep, he tripped on a stone and fell on Mi-she-kae (turtle) who was sunning on the beach. At that time, Mishekae was not as we know her today. She had no shell and was comprised of soft skin and bone.

Turtle complained loudly to Nanaboozhoo to watch where he was going. Now, Nanaboozhoo felt ashamed of his clumsiness and apologized to Mishekae. He wondered, "what can I do to make it up to her?" He wanted to do something to help his friend. "I'll have to sit and think it over,"he thought, as he followed the path back to his wigwam.

Sometime later, he returned to the beach and called for Mishekae. Turtle poked her head through the soft beach mud. Nanaboozhoo picked up two large shells from the shore and placed one on top of the other. He scooped up Mishekae and put her right in the middle, between the shells.

Nanaboozhoo took a deep breath and began. "You will never be injured like that again." he said slowly. "Whenever danger threatens," he continued, "you can pull your legs and head into the shell for protection"

Nanaboozhoo sat beside his friend on the beach and told Mishekae his thoughts. "The shell itself is round like Mother Earth. It was a round hump which resembles her hills and mountains. It is divided into segments, like martyrizes that are a part of her; each different and yet connected by her."

Mishekae seemed very pleased with and listened intently. "You have four legs, each representing the points of direction North, South, East and West." he said. "When the legs are all drawn in, all directions are lost. Your tail will show the many lands where the Anishnabek have been and your head will point in the direction to follow. "You will have advantages over the Anishnabek," he went on. "You will be able to live in the water as well as on land and you will be in your own house at all times."

Mishekae approved of her new self and thanked Nanaboozhoo for his wisdom. Moving now in a thick shell, she pushed herself along the shore and disappeared into the water.

So, ever since that accident long ago, Turtle has been special to the Anishnabek. To this day, she continues to grace Mother Earth, still proudly wearing those two shells.

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