Nana Beaujo holds on to a great big log


Welcome to another episode of White Buffalo Circles at Home Edition. Today, I’m going to tell my daughter the story of Turtle Island and why the Ojibwe people call this place Turtle Island. I hope you enjoy, stay safe out there, take care, and hope to see you soon.

Turtle Island

A lot of times when I work with kindergarten kids and young kids, especially, and I tell them that we never called this place Canada, we called it Turtle Island, right? A lot of them wonder why Turtle Island? Why would you call this place Turtle Island? So, we’re going to tell the story today about why the Ojibwe people call this place Turtle Island.

The Great Flood

This story has to do with a great flood, and it’s very interesting about a great flood because in the Bible, they talk about a story about a great flood, the story of Noah’s Ark. In African culture, they tell a story of a great flood, and in Aborigine culture in Australia, they have a story of a great flood. All around the world, cultures and histories talk about this great flood. And if every culture around Mother Earth talks about a great flood, guess what? There was a great flood at some time in our history.

Ojibwe Story

The Ojibwe story goes like this. It has a little bit to do with Nana Beaujo. A very long time ago, when God first put people here on Mother Earth, God wanted us to behave a certain way. He gave us instructions, and the Ojibwe people, we have the seven grandfather teachings, and we follow those teachings. But as time went on and more and more people started to fill Mother Earth, those people began to lose their way. They began to be disrespectful to their neighbors, they began to disrespect their children and women, they began to disrespect all of creation and put themselves above all of that beautiful circle of creation.

God’s Disappointment

God looked down on the people at that time in disgust. He was so disappointed with the way that we were living here on Mother Earth. He decided to cleanse the earth of the wicked people. And when you want to cleanse something, what you do is you send water. If you want to destroy something, you just send fire, and that will destroy it. But he didn’t want to destroy Mother Earth. He didn’t want to destroy creation. He just wanted to cleanse, wash away the wickedness that had become on Mother Earth.

The Flood

In the Bible, it says it rained for 40 days and 40 nights, and they call it a deluge. I kind of like to cross-reference the stories when I do this because there’s a lot of good visuals and references in that Bible as well. The Ojibwe story has to do with Nana Bonjou. Nana Bonjou is a spirit being, a creature in our culture in many, many stories. When the great floods came to Mother Earth, Nana Beaujo was walking on creation at that time. The rains started to pour down for 40 days and 40 nights. Pretty soon, all the little creeks started to overflow their banks, and all the rivers started to overflow their banks. Pretty soon, all the lakes filled up over the shores, and all across creation, the water began to rise and cover the lands.

Nana Beaujo’s Struggle

Nana Beaujo, when this happened, was able to grab onto this humongous log and hold on tight. As that log floated through the waters and down the rivers and rushed out into the great seas, he held on as tight as he could. After 40 days and 40 nights, Nana Beaujo was still holding on to that great big log out in the open waters, but he was tired, he was exhausted, and he started to begin to slip off the log.

The Sea Turtle

Most humans, regular humans like me and you, would have died a long time ago because we really need food and water. If we don’t have access to that, we’d die long before 40 days. But Nana Beaujo was no regular human. So he’s holding on to this great big log, and he started to slip off the log into the water. In this great big sea turtle, back then, the animals were much larger than they are today, so he was a huge sea turtle. He swam up underneath Nana Beaujo and watched him on the log, slipping from the log and falling underneath the water. The sea turtle came up underneath Nana Beaujo, caught him on his giant shell, and raised him back up to the water surface so he could breathe again.

Turtle Saves Nana Beaujo

The turtle saved Nana Beaujo for the time being. Nana Beaujo was laying on the back of this giant sea turtle. He had no food, no water, and was exposed to the sunlight. He was dying still, and the turtle didn’t know how to help because there was nowhere to go, no land anywhere in sight. The water was so deep it covered even the biggest mountains.

Water Creatures Gather

Many of the water creatures survived this flood. The beaver, muskrat, loons, seals, and walruses began to gather around the turtle’s shell, looking at Nana Beaujo. They wondered what was going on. They started talking to each other, trying to figure out if there was any way they could help Nana Beaujo. As time went by and the discussion carried on, none of the animals could figure out what to do. The turtle got a great idea and said to the creatures, “If you can get me a little bit of soil from the bottom of the ocean, with the help of the creator, I might be able to create something for Nana Beaujo.”

The Walrus

Right away, the biggest, strongest animal, the walrus, with the big tusks, said, “I’m the biggest animal here. I’m the best swimmer. Don’t worry about it. I got this.” He got up on turtle shells, took a deep breath, and down the walrus went, swimming and swimming. Mammals need to breathe air, they can hold their breath for a long time, but eventually, they have to come back up. The walrus was swimming, gone for about 10 minutes, then about 15 minutes, and pretty soon, 25 minutes went by. The big walrus came up out of the water, took a deep breath of air, and was exhausted. He came back to the turtle shell, got up on the side of the turtle shell, and looked around at the other animals, trying to catch his breath. He said, “I swam as deep and as far and as fast as I could swim, and I couldn’t even see the bottom. This water is so deep right now, there’s no way any of us are ever going to make it to the bottom.”

The Leopard Seal

Next, the big leopard seal got up and said, “I’m a better swimmer than you anyway, walrus. I’ll give it a try.” He got up on the shell, took a deep breath, and down he went. The leopard seal, a torpedo, was swimming super fast, deep down into the ocean to the darkness, as fast as he could swim. He was gone the same thing, about 20 minutes, 25 minutes went by, a little more than 25 minutes, 30 minutes went by. The big leopard seal jumped out of the water, took a huge breath, and came back to the turtle’s shell. The same thing, he looked around at the other animals and said, “I swam as fast and far deeper than the walrus, faster than the walrus, and I couldn’t even see the bottom. There’s no way anyone’s going to make it to the bottom of this ocean.”

Other Animals’ Attempts

Then the beaver got up, saying, “Okay, I’ll give it a try,” and the beaver went down, same thing, came back up. The loon tried, and there was a really cool water bird called the hell diver that went down. One after another, the animals were trying desperately to get to the bottom to bring up some soil and put it on the back of the turtle shell, but they were all failing. The day was going by, it was getting late in the afternoon, and the sunset was starting. The animals began to give up hope, talking amongst themselves, saying, “Look, we tried our best to help Nana Beaujo, but there’s just no way that we’re going to be able to do it.”

The Muskrat

Finally, they heard a tiny little voice coming from behind them, saying, “I’ll give it a try.” They looked around, trying to see who it was because there were so many animals gathered around. This little creature, the muskrat, came out from beneath the other creatures, looked up, and said, “I’ll give it a try.” Right away, the other animals started laughing, saying, “Come on, muskrat. If I couldn’t do it, there’s no way you’re going to be able to do it. Don’t even waste your time. Don’t bother.”

Muskrat’s Determination

But muskrat stepped up and spoke up, saying, “Look, I want to help Nana Beauj. I’m going to give it a try.” He got up on the turtle shell, took a big breath, and down he went, disappearing under the waves, swimming down, down, and down. The other animals were laughing, thinking this isn’t going to work at all.

Muskrat’s Journey

Twenty minutes went by, no muskrat. Then 25 minutes went by, about when the other animals started to come up, 30 minutes went by, no muskrat. Thirty-five minutes, still no muskrat. All the animals were getting worried, looking around, wondering where muskrat had gone. Forty minutes went by, and they saw off in the distance, muskrat’s body popping to the surface. They rushed over, grabbed little muskrat, brought him back to the turtle shell, and put him on the back of the turtle shell. They flipped him over, but he wasn’t moving. They checked for signs of life, listened for his breath, but there was no breath, and then checked his little pulse to see if he had a heartbeat. There was no heartbeat; muskrat had died, muskrat drowned trying to get to the bottom.

Muskrat’s Sacrifice

All the animals felt really sad because they were just laughing at this poor little guy for trying to help Nana Beaujo. Here he tried so hard, sacrificed his life, and died trying to get to the bottom of the ocean. They were all sitting around feeling really sad. The beaver looked over at the little muskrat and noticed that muskrat’s paw was in a tight little fist. He came over, peeled open muskrat’s tiny little paw, and inside was some soil, some earth. Muskrat made it, got all the way to the bottom of the ocean. When those big animals were getting down, knowing they were running out of breath, they turned around and gave up. Muskrat pushed through it, went all the way down, got right to the bottom of the ocean, and got that little bit of soil. As he was swimming back to the top, he ran out of air and drowned. It’s kind of a sad situation, but muskrat is the hero.

Creation of Turtle Island

They took that little bit of soil in muskrat’s paw and slapped it on the back of the turtle shell. As soon as the soil hit the back of the turtle shell, the shell started to expand, getting bigger and bigger. The little bit of soil spread out across the shell, and pretty soon, grass started to pop up off the back of the turtle shell in that little bit of soil. Before the animals knew it, they were looking around and couldn’t even see the edge of the turtle shell, which had gotten so big. It kept growing and growing. The grass turned into bushes, the bushes turned into trees, and before they knew it, they were standing around Nana Beaujo in the middle of this thick, dense forest that had grown on the back of the turtle shell. That shell grew and grew, getting so big it grew into what we now know as North America. It grew into the home that we call Turtle Island.


What I like about most of the Ojibwe stories is that it’s never the bear that’s the hero. It’s not the big wolf that’s the hero in most of our stories, not all, but most. It’s usually the little guy. It’s the mouse that gnaws the rope to save the day, or it’s the little hummingbird that comes in and she’s the hero. In this case, that little muskrat was the hero of this story.

Relationship Between Beaver and Muskrat

What’s cool about the beaver and the muskrat during that particular story is that even today, the beaver watches out for the muskrat. When the rivers freeze in the winter and the muskrat can’t get into his little burrows, the beaver allows the muskrat to come into the beaver dam and live with them all winter long. There’s this relationship that the beaver has with that little muskrat, taking care of him, and I think it directly relates to that story of Turtle Island.


That is why we call North America, Canada, Turtle Island. That’s all we’ve got for you for today. Hope you guys are staying safe, and we’ll see you soon. I hope you enjoyed that story of Turtle Island. Keep in mind that when you hear stories and teachings, there are a lot of regional differences. In the story that I was taught, it’s Nana Beaujo, the character in that story, but I’ve heard that story where it’s a female in the story. If you’re researching the medicine wheel, you’ll see the colors shifted sometimes. There are regional differences around Turtle Island, but generally, a lot of the teachings are very, very similar, if not exactly the same. Hope you enjoyed that. Hope you’re being safe. Take care, and I hope to see you soon.

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