Paula Underwood, Turtle Woman Singing (1932-2000)

Paula was the fifth generation of her family to hold responsibility for this ancient tradition. Her instructions were to record all she had learned in English to be given as a gift to all Earth’s children. In the introduction to The Walking People, Paula wrote, “this lineal transmission into written form was decided on nearly 200 years ago, as between my grandfather’s grandmother and the Keeper of the Old Things from whom she learned. This specific responsibility to enable that Ancient Keeper to speak through us to the Seventh Generation hence was accepted at that time and in every generation since.”

Paula, herself, was not a member of any Iroquois Nation; she was, however, brought up by her father in the “strong spirit path,” and taught to revere and respect Iroquoian traditions. She and her father considered themselves a Tribe of Two.

Using ancient traditional techniques, Paula’s father helped her store these tales and traditions in her memory as mind images. She was then expected to live her life, achieving a good western education. Only when she had reached an age of sufficient wisdom was she to write these wondrous tales down for all “listening ears,” so they might be shared with the children’s children’s children. Paula accepted this responsibility, and it became a sacred journey that continued until her death in December of 2000.

By the time Paula reached the age of fifty, she had achieved a master’s degree in international relations, married, worked, and raised two children. Paula had moved easily into the study of International Affairs and thoroughly enjoyed her 35 years in Washington, D.C., working for Congress, the International Monetary Fund, and with the Overseas Education Fund. She accomplished many goals as a volunteer in educational, environmental, and civic organizations. She had also begun the monumental task she had agreed to when she was only 12 years old.

The first thing she wrote under this mandate was one of three Native American Learning Stories, entitled Who Speaks for Wolf, followed by the first section of her principal task, the vast Oral History, The Walking People, which took her ancestors from Asia, across the Bering Strait and on across this continent, gathering wisdom as they walked. Paula’s first book Who Speaks for Wolf, published in 1983, won the Thomas Jefferson Cup Award and began a countrywide educational outreach program called The Past Is Prologue, termed exemplary by the US Department of Education. Her epic work, The Walking People, was published in 1993, in conjunction with the Institute of Noetic Sciences.

Paula’s work has appeared in numerous anthologies and journals. During her lifetime she conducted many retreats, served as consultant to corporations, was an advocate for the environment, and spoke before many audiences. Paula leaves a marvelous legacy of Wisdom for generations to come.