Turtle Woman’: My Gift From the Elders

Being placed in between two native elders, I was close to being given my own traditional spirit name.

Cloth in the colors of red and green were placed close to my chest with a peace pipe located in the centre of the material. The red cloth represented a woman and the green cloth represented Mother Earth. In front of me sage was placed in an abalone seashell and lit to slowly cleanse the air surrounding us. The elders positioned a prayer blanket over me and tucked me in. The male elder started drumming on the little drum known as the Little Boy. While he was drumming he was praying to the grandmothers and grandfathers to help uncover a traditional spirit name for me. The way he was praying to all our grandmothers and grandfathers was beautiful, even emotional. As he was drumming he let fall a few of his own tears, I believe it was because he felt the pain due to my health. In time I noticed the elder start to gently tap my back with a rattle, then the female elder placed the eagle feather fan in my hands. I had a lot to hold at that time. He had to pray three times till he was given a traditional aboriginal name for me. It was silent for a moment and then he said that I had been given the name Mikinaak Iskwew, meaning Turtle Woman. The elder said when he was tapping my back with the rattle my back lit up, and that is when he received the name from our Grandmothers and Grandfathers.

When I became Turtle Woman I was told to say in each direction; Grandmothers and Grandfathers of the North doorway, I am Turtle Woman. Miigwech.

I was offered a hand as I stood up off the ground and was given the traditional eagle feather fan by the female elder. She turned me to the direction of the East lifting my right arm up to the sky and told me to repeat after her. Grandmothers and Grandfathers of the East doorway I am Turtle Woman! Miigwech. I was shy saying it in front of the whole group so I was pretty quiet at first, while getting red in the face. We then turned to the North direction, Grandmothers and Grandfathers of the North doorway I am Turtle Woman! Miigwech. The elder still had to guide me with the correct wording, we then turned in the direction of the West. She told me to say it louder and as we went on my strength of courage did grow. Grandmothers and Grandfathers of the West doorway I am Turtle Woman! Miigwech. Lastly we turned South, Grandmothers and Grandfathers of the South doorway I am Turtle Woman! Miigwech. Once I introduced myself to all our Grandmothers and Grandfathers, I was told to go around the room and introduce myself to everyone as Turtle Woman. I was so happy that every time I was introducing myself to a group member I kept mixing up my wording, but I did manage to get around the whole room. Once I got my name I had to write it down right away. I didn’t know how to spell it correctly in Ojibwe at the time, so I had to write it down by sounding it out in English. I had so much joy growing in my heart at that moment from the gift I had been given. Looking back to those moments they will always be in my heart and it will be one of the best days of my life. Since getting my traditional spirit name I even feel closer and stronger to Mother Earth.

After I got my aboriginal name we all decided to have our little group feast. As tradition I learnt that the younger generation set the dishes with food for the elderly. From what I had been taught I helped get the plates ready for the two elders before they entered into the dining room. The plates were set on the table just as they came in. When they sat down, the rest of us met up and filled our own plates. As we all gathered around the table we thanked Mother Earth for our food set on our plates, and then we took in our gift that Mother Earth had given us. While we were eating we began talking just as if we were one big family. Feeling the amount of love in the room you could sense each one of our heartbeats were in lock with Mother Earth’s heart.

The meaning of the turtle, suites me; the turtle symbolises the Earth, which in meaning is Mother Earth. As well as emotional strength and having patience all through life. The earth is referred to as “Turtle Island”, it is known that the turtle is carrying all our relations on her back and keeping the world in balance. It has been told that the turtle teaches us to keep strong no matter what obstacles or struggles come our way.

Being given the name Turtle Woman gives me the great strength of power to deal with my disability. With having epileptic seizures my whole life, I have had all sorts of emotions and with fighting any disability comes a large amount of inner strength. There has been lots of obstacles and struggles through my life time. I have to say that it has felt like I do have the weight of the world on my back, I have to fight for my health every day. Even now it is hard living with epilepsy; with love and patience nothing is impossible. Day by day I just have to take it slow and steady just like the turtle.

Born and raised in Manitoba, Canada and now residing in Calgary, Alberta. McIntosh recently found her ancestry. Her goal is to pursue a future with writing and hopes to open some closed eyes and minds.

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