A southern Ontario First Nation is hoping to protect turtles while helping revitalize their local dialect through new turtle crossing signs.
Curve Lake First Nation, about 120 kilometres northeast of Toronto, is home to four types of turtles, all considered species at risk.
“Curve Lake used to be full of turtles and now we’re not,” said Lorenzo Whetung, one of the community members who initiated the project.
“We have to watch out for the ones that we do have.”
The signs were installed as part of a project that was funded by Environment and Climate Change Canada in collaboration with Curve Lake First Nation and Otonabee Conservation.
The signs read ‘mikinaak aazhga aatigong,’ which means turtle crossing in the local Michi Saagig dialect of Anishinaabemowin.
“There’s a preservation of the language there, too, for the people,” said Whetung.
The translation was done by elders in the community and the graphic on the signs was provided by the Toronto Zoo Turtle Island Conservation Program.
Turtle nesting season runs from May until July, which is when female turtles are travelling to nest sites and are crossing roads, putting them at risk of being hit by vehicles.
From August to October, eggs begin to hatch and young turtles are faced with the same danger from vehicles while heading to water.
“Turtles are so important to us, to our culture and to the health of the environment,” said Curve Lake Chief Emily Whetung.
She said the project has been a long time in the making.
“It’s really wonderful that we can work with the Otonabee Region Conservation Authority to have those signs put up and put up in our language,” Chief Whetung said.
Conservation authority taps into local knowledge
Nine signs have been installed around Curve Lake in areas of the community where turtles are commonly seen.
Otonabee Conservation made maps of the community available for band members to mark areas where they have seen live turtles, dead turtles, nesting turtles, or used to see nesting turtles but don’t anymore.
“We’re trying to get a sense of what’s happening on the landscape,” said Meredith Carter, manager of the Watershed Management Program for the Otonabee Region Conservation Authority.
“It was just so lovely to be able to get that local knowledge,” she said.
On May 23, the conservation authority had a celebration at the Curve Lake community centre for World Turtle Day.
“We did a presentation that shared what we had learned throughout the project and showed them the maps and showed what the new signs were going to look like,” said Carter.
Having the signs installed was the final piece of the project.