What Is “Earth on Turtle’s Back (Onondaga)”?

“Earth on Turtle’s Back” is the creation story for the American Indian Onondaga tribe. According to Yale University professor Marcia L. Gerencser, creation stories explain how the world came into existence.

Creation myths in many cultures serve as symbolic stories of how the Earth was created. They also explain how people came to live on the Earth. According to Michael J. Caduto and Joseph Bruchac, authors of “Keepers of the Earth,” in “Earth on Turtle’s Back,” animals, plants, seasons, elements and the four directions play crucial roles in explaining the origins of the world.

In the story, an ancient chief lived in Skyland, a land above the clouds over a world of water, with his pregnant wife. In Skyland was a Great Tree, which pointed to the four directions and which the wife dreamed was uprooted. Because she dreamed it, the chief had the tree uprooted. This left a hole through which the wife fell toward the water land. Because the chief’s wife couldn’t survive in a watery environment, the water animals created a land environment on a great turtle’s back.

According to professor Gerenscer, the myth shows the importance the Onondaga placed on dreams. According to authors Caduto and Bruchac, the myth also shows the cultural belief that smaller and weaker beings can achieve acts that larger, stronger beings cannot. This leads to the lesson of the story, that determination is more important that strength in completing tasks.