'Wenebojo Made a House for the Tortoise': Ojibwe winter story

The fifth story in our "Winter Stories" series of Ojibwe stories that can only be told when there's snow on the ground.

(File Photo)
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Editor's note: In the Ojibwe culture, some stories are only to be told when there is snow on the ground. T his is the fifth and final of several Ojibwe winter stories that have been shared with us, and are being published in the Tribune. To read more of these stories, or to learn more, visit .

Long ago, when the world was young, there were only two tortoises. They didn't have any shells or houses on their backs as we know them today. They were all soft.

In the woods, the strong animals hunt the weaker animals, and Otter planned on eating Tortoise.

One day, Tortoise wanted to go on land to take a walk, but he couldn't run very fast so he looked around to see if any of the other animals were there. As he looked around, he saw Otter coming, so Tortoise turned around and crawled under a piece of bark and drew his head, legs, and tail in, and Otter didn't see him.

When Otter was gone, Tortoise went back to the pond where he lived. But he didn't know that Wenebojo was watching him and saw how had he saved himself from Otter.


One morning Wenebojo was out fishing, and he asked Tortoise where there were lots of fish. He said, “If you tell me, I'll give you a sturdy house that you can carry on your back.”

As soon as the tortoise heard this, he dived down and looked for fish and found a lot, and then he came back and told Wenebojo where they were. Wenebojo thanked him and got out of his canoe and asked Tortoise to come up on land with him.

There, Wenebojo found a piece of bark and put it on Tortoise's back, and got another piece and put it on his stomach. Then they watched for Otter to come. When they saw him coming, Tortoise went out on the path and pretended that he didn't see Otter coming. When Otter saw Tortoise, he jumped on him so he could eat him, but Tortoise drew his head, legs, and tail into the new shell and was safe.

After Otter went away, Wenebojo told Tortoise that, “From this day forth, every Tortoise shall carry his shell, or house, along wherever he goes.”

-- As told by Mike Swan, spiritual leader for the Pine Point community and Native American Cultural Liaison for Detroit Lakes Public Schools

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