About this poem, the poet Lois Red Elk writes, “In the Dakota/Lakota culture the story of the turtle carries a life of longevity and purposeful living. We make turtle amulets out of deerskin and present them to new mothers who have female babies. The prayer and promise with the amulet is that the child will have a long, purpose-filled life. A small portion of the baby's dried umbilical cord (the last connection between the mother and baby) is sewn into the amulet and kept with the child’s clothing. The prayer and knowledge is that the turtle spirit now cares for the child spirit. Also, when the child matures and has their first dream, they are fed turtle soup. The dream is always good and reveals a lesson or purpose for the child. We celebrate with the child by telling them that the turtle spirit and energy, in the soup, is transferred into the child and will guide and protect the child in and through their dreams.”
The following activities and questions are designed to help your students use their noticing skills to move through the poem and develop their thinking about its meaning with confidence, using what they’ve noticed as evidence for their interpretations. Read more about the framework upon which these activities are based.
In “Ancestors: A Mapping of Indigenous Poetry and Poets,” Joy Harjo writes, “The English language does not exist in a vacuum. Because it is an earthly creation of human communication, it is in a constant state of flux. English is renewed by use, especially by poets who have one of the most intimate relationships with it. The language then becomes a keeper, if you will, of cultural movement, ideas—a storehouse. For many indigenous poets, it is poetry that makes a bridge between indigenous spoken traditions and written English texts.” Read more.