First Peoples


North America was renamed Turtle Island by the poet Gary Snyder, as a gesture of respect to the aboriginal cultures of North America. The term originated with the Iroquois tale of the origin of the continent out of mud carried to the surface of the sea on the back of a turtle. In the Okanagan, the story reappears in the guise of red mud dredged up and rolled out by hand.  What does it all look like today? Here’s the youth version, in Penticton:

Penticton Youths Love Turtles (And Other Things)

Seemingly, the Canadian Armed Forces, who provided the building, is not high on their list. This graphical representation of North America is as complex as contemporary culture. I love the added touch of the fiberglassed air conditioner, as a gesture towards (or away from?) global warming.

Turtles have a long and honourable history in the valley. Here they are, just south of Brewster, at Wenatchee:

Turtle Rock, Wenatchee Washington

Note the two heads. These two-headed formations (usually one gives birth to the other) are common throughout the North West. The water in the foreground was formally the river, now a slough cut off by the rail line.

Far, far to the north, in downtown Vernon, British Columbia, a different turtle bathes on the shore of a vanished lake. The lake was called Lake Penticton, and for a couple thousand years washed up at the foot of Turtle Mountain:

Turtle Mountain, Vernon, BC

Looking across the shallows of Lake Penticton, of late planted with apple trees, more recently stripped of them again.

Remembering that myth of the earth being rolled out of good, red Okanagan volcanic clay, take a look at this closeup of the mountain:

Volcanic Glass in the Red Basalt of Turtle Mountain

Turtle eggs, or what, eh.

Thing is, Lake Penticton survived for two thousand years at the end of the last glacial period, but broke its ice dam and drained away 10,000 years ago. Memory goes back a long, long time in this country. The stories written in this land, and recorded in human memory, predate the Bible by 7,000 years. We even had a great flood:

Hand-Painted Turtle and Sun Saved from Flooding Behind the Wells Dam

Well, kinda saved. The signage talks about the Egyptian hieroglyphics.

If ancient civilization is projected to be under 150 feet of water along the Pacific Coast, what would we find if we hiked around the shores of Lake Penticton, 100 metres above the current level of Okanagan Lake? More turtles, I bet.

Categories: First Peoples, Land, Water

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