A friend sent me this a few weeks ago, the cultural specialist at the Phoenix Indian Center sent it out:
I want to share with you very briefly; the story behind the turkey in our Diné Oral History. Turkey is a very sacred bird to us and as well as to many different tribes. Because of turkey, the Holy people were able to survive coming from the lower worlds (Yellow world into the white world). In the lower yellow world, there was a flood that had occurred due to Coyote’s behaviors as he stole the Water Monster’s baby. Because the Water Monster could control the waters, it got mad when it couldn’t find its baby, so she created a flood. The inhabitants saw that water was rising from all directions. Confusion came upon the people, and fear had settled in as well, so because of the fear of drowning, they scattered and hurried grabbing what they could. Turkey in the meantime, took his time and collected the necessities that people left. The people hurried into a giant reed that was planted and it grew into the sky with them. All the while, turkey took his time, gathering the different seeds and plants that they would need in the new world. So finally, turkey was the last to enter the giant reed as the flood waters came brushing up against his tail feathers. So this is the reason that turkey has white tipped tail feathers. As they settled in the White world, people had realized that they forgot the most important things in life, and they were in fear that they would starve. So turkey came forth again, shook his body and feathers, out came the seeds (beans, corn, squash and tobacco) and with this planting took place and they harvested their crops and survived once again.
The turkey feathers are used in ceremonies to heal a patient. Turkey represents growth and healing, and because of its sacredness, we don’t hunt turkey for game, but for the feathers to be used in ceremonies and not necessarily for its meat for consumption. Turkey was eaten only when food was scarce, that is how sacred the bird is. He has a part in different stories pertaining to ceremonies and also the Moccasin game (Keshjee’) or what is commonly known as shoe game. It’s feathers are used to heal in the enemy way ceremony and in the Ye’ii bicheii ceremonies.
Today, we consume turkey at almost every holiday gathering that we have, sometimes without the understanding of its role in traditional stories. It is good to understand what the turkey represents when it comes to holiday dinners, not just that it is the main dish at the center of the table, but its significance to tribal nations.
I’ve always been facinated by the oral tradition. In college, any excuse to read, listen or learn more was enough for me to take a class or attend a lecture or social gathering. In my early 20’s I went through a phase of self exploration and vapid confusion.
Growing up on the reservation, I had some trouble acclimating to living in the city and being on my own. I was happy to be on my own, but it was difficult to adjust to so many different people in one place. The town I grew up in was very small and 99% of the people there were Navajo. I heard the language everywhere I went. I was used to the customs. I was used to poverty. Abuse is not uncommon. However, there are some very beautiful and uncomparable traditions that I miss.