Thu. Dec 7th, 2023
Living with the Massasauga Rattlesnake: An Anishinaabek Perspective

Today’s post comes from Indigenous Project Relations Intern Adam Solomon and Discovery Program Leader Kenton Otterbein at Killbear Provincial Park. Adam is a member of the Henvey Inlet First Nation.

See a Massasauga rattlesnake (“Zhiishiigweg in Anishinaabemowin) can provoke a variety of emotions ranging from fear to fascination.

Unfortunately, fear caused by misinformation exaggerating the danger of rattlesnake bites has caused many to kill rattlesnakes during the last 200 years of European settlement in this province.

The Anishinaabek have a different worldview than the Massasauga rattlesnake.

massasauga rattlesnakeThe Massasauga rattlesnake (zhiishiigweg) is Ontario’s only venomous snake. It is considered a threatened species and is protected wherever it is found throughout the province.

This worldview is based on respect and understanding of the rattlesnake’s role in creation.

Learning about this worldview can help guide us all in our efforts to conserve the natural world.


The Anishinaabek have lived on the shores of Georgian Bay for millennia.

Their traditional teachings about the rattlesnake reflect their tradition of living in harmony with the natural world.

The term Be save loosely translates into English as “living well and respectfully.”


Anishinaabek and other indigenous peoples have acquired extensive knowledge about how to live in harmony with our non-human relationships in the natural world (Be save).

The Anishinaabek connection to the land allows for a solid foundation for conservation in the future. It keeps us connected to creation. It allows us to honor creation with prayers, ensuring our spirit is connected to the earth.

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Knowledge sharing

The Anishinaabek make sure to honor and recognize all that exists under creation.

articles in the discovery centerRattlesnake Teaching at the Killbear Discovery Center by Sam Kewaquado

Many of these lessons are shared through oral histories, ceremonies, and family activities.

The following teachings were shared by Sam Kewaquado, an elder from the Shawanaga First Nation, who is no longer with us. We thank him and his family for sharing this knowledge.

“The rattlesnake plays an important role in the natural ecosystem as it is known as a natural protector. They spend much of their time during the summer hiding in blueberry bushes avoiding predators and waiting for their prey.

“When people harvest blueberries, the rattlesnake’s job is to remind them with a shake of its rattle to only take what they need and leave some for other creatures. The rattlesnake ensures that plants can continue to produce fruit in the future for all of creation.

“The rattlesnake has another vital role as a healer. Ojibwe communities have been taught about the medicinal power they possess. The healers would summon the I stopped (the Great Serpent) with prayer and offerings.


“They would advise the I stopped of illness within the community and would ask for a cure. Wherever the snake’s body moved, the healers scraped the scales from that part of the body using a wooden spatula and a bowl.

“This would then be used to create a potion to cure the sick.”

A protection association

mapThe eastern shore of Georgian Bay and the Bruce Peninsula are the two regions where rattlesnakes continue to be found in relatively healthy numbers in Ontario.

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Killbear Provincial Park continues to work to protect this species along with partners such as:

Learn more about living with Zhiishiigweg

To learn more about rattlesnakes and learn about some of the efforts Killbear has made to protect them, check out these other blog posts: