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Native American Symbolism – Turtle

Native American Symbolism – Turtle

A lot of Native American jewelry, especially Hopi silver jewelry, features the Turtle motif. The turtle is an important symbol across different American Indian tribes in folklore, and it is associated with diverse topics from creation to fertility.

Across Native American nations and tribes, the turtle can represent Mother Earth, good health, a long life, motherhood, water, and more. An old, sacred figure to many Native Americans, the turtle legends bring a recurring theme of creation, longevity, and protection. Worn as a totem animal, it enables its wearer to connect with the Earth’s ancient wisdom.

Turtle versus Tortoise

With many similarities – both having long lifespans (some up to 150 years or longer), moving slowly, and laying eggs – turtles and tortoises also have distinct differences.


  • live primarily on land
  • have clawed feet for digging and short, strong, stumpy legs
  • lay eggs in a nest
  • have round saddleback shells
  • spend the warmer part of the day underground in their burrows
  • solely eat plants
  • do not migrate


  • live in the ocean or rivers and lakes
  • have webbed front feet and streamlined legs for swimming
  • lay eggs on land (the only time turtles leave the water)
  • have a flat shell
  • eat plants and insects
  • migrate seasonally

Native American Symbolism

Most Native American tribes revere the turtle, widely associating it with longevity, protection, wisdom, fertility, healing, health, safety, and spirituality. Its shell represents protection and perseverance. The turtle embodies fortitude and resilience, reflecting the same qualities of Native Americans themselves.

  • According to some legends (including those of the Iroquois), at the creation, the Sacred Turtle dove into the primeval oceans of Mother Earth and retrieved mud from the ocean floor, bringing it to the surface to create the land. The turtle is the oldest symbol of Mother Earth and, according to legend, humans live on the back of the Sacred Turtle.
  • The desert-dwelling tribes of the southwest associate the turtle with water, a scarce and precious resource for these cultures. Turtle assures life-giving rainfall.
  • For the Navajo, Zuni, and Hopi, the turtle represents self-reliance, longevity, and tenacity. Its shell is used in Navajo ceremonies to dispense medicines, as its healing properties are so unrivalled.
  • The turtle symbol is also popular in Zuni fetishes. According to Zuni legend, turtles bring both longevity and fertility and so they adorn medicine bags with turtle fetishes or motifs.
  • “Keya” in the Lakota language, the turtle spirit represents Unci Maka or Grandmother Earth. She brings health and longevity and teaches humans to walk our life paths in peace. Lakota mothers make a leather amulet shaped like a turtle for their newborn babies (especially girls). Into this, they sew closed their child’s umbilical cord, which is kept as a protective, grounding talisman.
  • The Lakota also associate women with the Sacred Turtle for their ability to create the gift of life.
  • Some tribes craft ceremonial dance rattles from turtle shells.
  • The centre of the turtle’s shell features thirteen patterned squares, and for some tribes, this is used as a sacred calendar, as each square represents one of the thirteen full moons of the year. There are twenty-eight surrounding squares on the shell, and these represent the twenty-eight days of each lunar month.

Why Wear a Turtle Symbol?

Wearing a turtle talisman in the form of a necklace, earrings, bracelet, or any other type of jewelry serves an array of symbolic purposes:

  • Inspires you to chart your own course with strength and determination.
  • Connects you with Mother Earth and the Oceans.
  • Reminds you to progress with patience, calmly and at your own pace.
  • Brings luck, protection, wisdom, longevity, healing, peace, serenity, and fertility.

Turtle at Indian Traders

We have a lovely variety of merchandise featuring Turtle here at Indian Traders. From a Native American blanket to authentic Hopi Indian Silver Jewelry, Native American Turquoise Jewelry, and a beautiful Turtle Figurine, there is something to suit every taste and budget.

Browse our website today!