Turkey Tales


(male turkeys displaying for the females in my yard)


Right across the river is an ancient Pueblo ruin. Half way up the cliff a petroglyph of the turkey, a bird that is sacred to Indigenous peoples is inscribed on a rock with other storied landscape scenes…


When I first came to Abiquiu (the place below the cattails) I climbed the mesa to touch the carving, to be with, to reflect upon this particular petroglyph. The stone marked a holy place.


After being away for a few months I returned to find ‘my’ turkey defaced by uncaring people.


I no longer visit the ruin.


Turkeys are sacred birds to all Indigenous peoples who gather their feathers to wear in ceremonial dances. Wild turkeys like the ones in the picture inhabit the lowlands around my house in Maine, dancing and spreading their iridescent fans even in the fall for the females who are not in the picture but feeding close by under the bird feeder. In the winter they make hieroglyphics in the snow, and roost in tall evergreens by my brook. In the spring the mothers raise their chicks in the tall grasses that stretch down to the wetlands. They know they are protected here in this small sanctuary. I love the sounds they make – chortling conversation – and when they take to the air they resemble flying cannonballs, a sight that always makes me laugh.


Of course, these wild turkeys can be shot by hunters in and out of season because after all – who is going to stop them?


The second amendment and the religion of violence are intimately related.


Today is ‘thanksgiving’ for many Americans, the descendants of the colonists who took over this country, shot everything in sight –some species to extinction – and annihilated the original inhabitants, destroying their ceremonies, customs, language, stealing their land, selling the woman and children into slavery, forcing them to adopt a foreign patriarchal (power over) religion or die.


Perspective is everything.


From the colonists point of view – they won. Ironically, even the food that first sustained the starving immigrants was provided by Native peoples. Indian lands became their own, the animals and birds with whom the Native peoples lived with in harmony, respected, killed only ritually, and with gratitude for food, the Native understanding that all life was sacred – that all beings were equal and related; these ways of thinking were dismissed, crushed, denied, forbidden.


Three hundred years later little has changed. Americans have yet to own that they destroyed an entire culture, a people who lived in “right relationship” with the planet that supports them.


Surely, today, Indigenous peoples are not celebrating their takeover by the descendants of the original colonists; surely they are not cooking turkeys for what has become a feast of revolting gluttony when so many are starving throughout the world – and surely they are not grateful that their lands have been stolen, their women and children raped, murdered, or sold into slavery, or that their most sacred places are gone or up for grabs by corporate greed.


To give the reader just one example: think of 85% of Bear Ears monument a holy place sacred to most tribes in the southwest taken over by this current administration. This president supports the “chaining” of thousands of acres of forest, and rights of way for new roads and utility lines through the iconic Indian Creek landscape even in what is left of the monument. The plan fails to map out strong protections for priceless cultural sites in Bears Ears and fails to lay out a plan of co-management with the Bears Ears Inter-tribal Coalition as it was originally designed.


Throughout the country BLM lands, the public lands that once belonged to all American peoples have been desecrated, overgrazed, ruthlessly logged, opened up for fracking, oil extraction, mining and every kind of abuse of power.


Economy ‘trumps’ the living breathing planet on which we depend for life.


Rape of the Earth has become normalized.


Indigenous peoples understand that what we do to the Earth we do to ourselves. Americans as a whole have no concept of what the above statement means, or can even imagine what the consequences of Earth abuse might endgender.


And then I think of the millions of turkeys mindlessly slaughtered to provide so many with meat for ‘thanksgiving’ and I weep.


I close this narrative with a quote from Terry Tempest Williams that mirrors my own Indigenous perspective. I have Passamaquoddy roots.


“Whatever I know as a woman about spirituality I have learned from my body encountering the Earth. Soul and soil are not separate. Neither are wind and spirit, nor water or tears.”