If we are not, as peoples of the earth, willing to counter colonialism, we have no hope of surviving climate change.
Naomi: Can you tell me a little bit about the name of your book, Dancing On Our Turtle’s Back, and what it means in this moment?
Leanne: I’ve heard Elder Edna Manitowabi tell one of our creation stories about a muskrat and a turtle for years now. In this story, there’s been some sort of environmental crisis. Because within Anishinaabeg cosmology, this isn’t the First World, maybe this is the Fourth World that we’re on. And whenever there’s an imbalance and the imbalance isn’t addressed, then over time there’s a crisis. This time, there was a big flood that covered the entire world. Nanabush, one of our sacred beings, ends up trapped on a log with many of the other animals. They are floating in this vast sea of water with no land in sight. To me, that feels like where we are right now. I’m on a very crowded log, the world my ancestors knew and lived in is gone, and me and my community need to come up with a solution even though we are all feeling overwhelmed and irritated. It’s an intense situation and no one knows what to do, no one knows how to make a new world.
So the animals end up taking turns diving down and searching for a pawful of dirt or earth to use to start to make a new world. The strong animals go first, and when they come up with nothing, the smaller animals take a turn. Finally, muskrat is successful and brings her pawfull of dirt up to the surface. Turtle volunteers to have the earth placed on her back. Nanibush prays and breaths life into that earth. All of the animals sing and dance on the turtle’s back in a circle, and as they do this, the turtle’s back grows. It grows and grows until it becomes the world we know. This is why Anishinaabeg call North America Mikinakong—the place of the turtle.
When Edna tells this story, she says that we’re all that muskrat, and that we all have that responsibility to get off the log and dive down no matter how hard it is and search around for that dirt. And that to me was profound and transformative, because we can’t wait for somebody else to come up with the idea. The whole point, the way we’re going to make this better, is by everybody engaging in their own being, in their own gifts, and embody this movement, embody this transformation.
And so that was a transformative story for me in my life and seemed to me very relevant in terms of climate change, in terms of indigenous resurgence, in terms of rebuilding the Anishinaabeg Nation. And so when people started round dancing all over the turtle’s back in December and January, it made me insanely happy. Watching the transformative nature of those acts, made me realize that it’s the embodiment, we have to embody the transformation.
Naomi: What did it feel like to you when it was happening?
Leanne: Love. On an emotional, a physical level, on a spiritual level. Yeah, it was love. It was an intimate, deep love. Like the love that I have for my children or the love that I have for the land. It was that kind of authentic, not romantic kind of fleeting love. It was a grounded love.
Naomi: And it can even be felt in a shopping mall.
Leanne: Even in a shopping mall. And how shocking is that?
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