Snakes in First Nation Culture by Chevaun Toulouse

June is National Indigenous History Month. For every Thursday in June, our Turtle Island Conservation has been sharing interesting facts and insight on Facebook and the blog!

Did you know that in First Nations culture, snakes are considered to be guides, protectors, and heroes? Snakes were one of the most common representations on petroglyphs, petroforms, and sacred birch bark scrolls. Snakes were amongst the most powerful of the spiritual beings to First Nations and were depicted as compassionate and willing to sacrifice itself to save others, despite their cold-blooded or villainous reputation. Snakes were believed to create the rivers, as their twisted, winding nature matched the oscillating movements of snakes. Amongst the snake stories of the Anishinabek, the Medicine Serpent was the most powerful and influential. It was a healer and protector of medicine that could give gifts to medicine men, which were highly sought after. The snake is also considered to be a helper and protector of women. The Haudenosaunee also saw their benefits to the ecosystem and humans, as snakes eat pests that carry disease or decimate crops. These are benefits that snakes continue to provide humans with today!

Growing up in Sagamok Anishnawbek First Nation gave me an interest and respect for the environment as I spent most of my youth trying to catch turtles and snakes in the swamp. Working for Turtle Island Conservation has given me the chance to work with Species at Risk reptiles and amphibians, but I am particularly interested in the snakes of Ontario! I am the Project Lead on Adopt A Pond’s Eastern Milksnake Monitoring Project, which uses artificial cover boards to attract and survey for snakes. When checking the cover boards, if I find a snake, I collect data such as its weight, measurements (see above photos), temperatures, and habitat characteristics. The eastern milksnake is also called wabanang dodoshabo gnebig in Anishnaabemowin. I also do work with snake fungal disease swabbing and snake outreach. Snakes in Ontario are threatened by a number of factors including snake fungal disease, human persecution, road mortality, and habitat loss. This work allows me to combine my passion for snakes, my education in western science, and my First Nations culture.

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Thank you for learning about Indigenous teachings, culture, and Ways of Knowing for this month of June! We hope that you enjoyed learning from our TIC staff and reading about our important work! TIC would like to say chi miigwetch to Barrick Gold who sponsored us for National Indigenous History Month and funded our National Indigenous Peoples Day event! We look forward to sharing more of our First Nations perspectives with you in the future.

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