Thunderbird Matters: Being Loyal to The Land

Tim Yearington

Tim outside on the land beside a small stone turtle petroform used to share teachings. 
[This article appears in the February/March 2020 issue of The SCOOP.]

This article is the first in a regular column. As a Métis-Algonquin writer, my intention is to bring awareness to the Indigenous worldview native to this township and help you see “the land” in a new way. Traditional Indigenous teachings are rooted in the importance of “land-based learning.” Our view is the more we participate with the land, the more we can learn from the land: Our shared Mother Earth.

Although the Township of Stone Mills is home today to many people from various parts of the World, this land is still the traditional “shared territory” of various local Indigenous Nations. These include the Wendat (Huron), Mississauga (Ojibway), Haudenosaunee (Mohawk), Anishinaabeg (Algonquin), and Métis (mixed-blood).

Some of the Loyalists who came here to settle in Stone Mills had Indigenous blood in their family lineage. For example, some Loyalist people, who came from New York State and the Mohawk Valley, actually had Mohawk ancestry. Others married people who were descendants of the first Indigenous peoples living here.

When European explorers, colonists, settlers, and homesteaders laid down foundations here, the hope was that our good-hearted Indigenous mindset of “shared territory” would remain a constant. But unfortunately, history proves otherwise even though the land itself is still “Mother Earth” to us all.

Indigenous people had no choice but to share the land with the Newcomers. Sharing the gifts of the land was required because this very spirit is our Way of Life. To this day we Algonquin understand we cannot “own” the land: How can you own your Mother?

A long time ago, our prehistoric Algonquin ancestors lived throughout the wilderness lands, forests, and lakes of Stone Mills. We know this because our Elders say, “We’ve been on the land since the beginning; since time immemorial.”

Nobody really knows for sure how long that is. But when we do the Ice Age math and merge the numbers with our own “flood story” – native to this territory – it was likely 14,000 years ago. This is believed to be the time our own Creation Story emerged: the creation of “Turtle Island.” But before I tell you about that, let’s take a look at the original stone foundation.

Only a few kilometres north of the village of Tamworth the land rises in elevation. Old fields and farms give way to the ancient bedrock of the Canadian Shield. When the over two-kilometre-thick Laurentide Glacier of the last Ice Age began melting away 18,000 years ago, an immense melt-water lake was formed. Glaciologists call it Lake Iroquois. But since time immemorial our Algonquin ancestors called it “The Great Water.”

With so much fresh meltwater, most of it eventually flowed downhill and mixed into the oceans. The resulting global rise in sea level around the whole World was motivation enough to give rise to all the ancient flood myths told by every culture on planet Earth.

Millennia before the first European colonists and settlers arrived the region north of Tamworth was a relict shoreline of that ancient glacial lake. A professional archaeologist confirmed to me that the stone highlands above Tamworth were once the shores of glacial Lake Iroquois – The Great Water – and is Ontario’s oldest relict shoreline.

Waves lapped against a resistant bedrock shoreline that composed a post-glacial scene; a barren stone landscape of inlets, bays, points, and rocky islands. Stretching northward, this land is where our Algonquin ancestors walked, paddled, fished for trout, trapped rabbits, hunted caribou, slept in wigwams, told stories, lived life well, and prospered.

As the glacier melted it weighed less. The land rebounded above the level of The Great Water. Our ancestors were present here at that distant time and over many generations experienced the rise of bedrock over water. The land was growing!

Our people remembered and repeated an oral account of it. They told a flood myth – our Algonquin Creation Story – to make sense of the matter. This ancient story speaks of a time when the shell of a turtle rose from the depths of The Great Water to save all the animals and people who survived the Ice Age.

All the beings – crawlers, walkers, swimmers, fliers, and humans – each tried to dive to the bottom of The Great Water to get some mud. Each tried and each failed. Except for little Muskrat. She dove all the way to the bottom! Muskrat retrieved a tiny pawful of mud. The mud was spread over the back of Turtle’s shell. The winds of the Four Directions blew turning the old mud into a new earth. The earth on Turtle’s shell grew bigger until a massive island – Turtle Island – formed. A new home now sat upon the solid stone foundation of the Great Turtle’s shell for all the animals and humans.

And we’re still here! Even though many of us today are Algonquin descendants, we do our best to embrace the tales and teachings of our ancestors because there’s medicine in them. To help us feel better we go and walk upon the land: the shell of the Great Turtle. It’s here we can still learn the land-based wisdom of our ancestors. We visit them by visiting the land. By being loyal to the land everyone can gain good medicine: We’re all native to the Earth.

Tim Yearington is a mix of Irish, French-Canadian and Métis-Algonquin heritage. He is a thunderbird (traditional shaman), teacher, artist, storyteller, writer and is the author of the book “Quest for the Thunderbird Nest: Returning to Algonquin Spirituality.” Tim explores Turtle Island and leads medicine walks on the land. For more information, please email him: or visit:

Guided Medicine Walks on the land - upon the back of the Great Turtle's shell -
are an experiential way to help people learn the wisdom of Algonquin Worldview.