Turtle Island Turtle Teachings

By Taylor Tabobondung

Mishiki Minsi or Turtle Island, as it is referred to in English, is what the Indigenous people of Ontario call North America. For time immemorial, these Indigenous people have stewarded the natural lands of this vast continent. The observations and histories shared by these societies can help to shed light on the biotic and abiotic composition of North America during pre-colonial times and the changes that have taken place. 

Turtles, or Miskwaadesi as they are known in the Anishinaabe language, are important to Indigenous cultures and belief systems. The 7 Grandfather Teachings encompass the morals, values, structures, ceremonial practices, and spiritual beliefs of the Anishinaabe people. The Turtle is one of the animals that represents the teaching of Truth. The Turtle is said to represent truth because it is one of the oldest animals on our planet and is said to have witnessed the creation of life and land. The turtle is the focal animal in the Haudenosaunee creation story, a story that can be explored using Turtle Island Conservation’s Walking with Ano:wara storybook.

The plants and animals of Mishiki Minsi are all connected, and changes made to a small part of our ecological system, can have impacts on all aspects of that system. The photo below showcases this connection; the black line within the image connects each animal in a circle.

The First Nation’s Art Garden located adjacent to the America’s Pavilion at the Zoo, is a great example of this inter-connectivity. The garden acts as a gathering place, where guests can learn about traditional medicines, conservation projects, creation stories and the relation of these teachings to the animals that live at the Zoo. The garden is a great way for Turtle Island Conservation to share Indigenous ways of knowing with our guests and to create a space that is welcoming and appropriate for Indigenous and non-Indigenous Zoo guests! 

Turtle Island Conservation works with the Adopt-a-Pond Wetland Conservation Team to help ensure cultural sensitives are addressed when raising, releasing, and monitoring our Blanding’s turtle’s. This includes having an elder provide a blessing for each turtle before they are released and planning the release around June 21, which is National Indigenous People’s Day.

If you are interested in learning more about the significance of Turtles to Indigenous cultures or hearing Indigenous stories shared by our First Nation Conservation Steward, please tuned into the Toronto Zoo’s National Indigenous People’s Day celebration via the Toronto Zoo Facebook page and other social media platforms, which will be engaging guests throughout the month of June!