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SUCCESS STORIES—Kassie & Chevaun

Toronto Zoo, Turtle Island Conservation

Kassie McKeown and Chevaun Toulouse, work for Turtle Island Conservation (TIC) at the Toronto Zoo. The TIC program has a goal to partner with First Nation communities to preserve community knowledge and significant natural and cultural landscapes.

KASSIE MCKEOWN is from Alderville First Nation and has been an active member of her community, sitting on the Alderville Community Trust as a Youth Trustee and Vice Treasurer. Finding employment at the Toronto Zoo through Miziwe Biik helped her realize a passion that had already been ignited close to home. Kassie worked as a summer student at the Alderville Black Oak Savanna, a restoration, research and education project located south of Rice Lake, working to preserve and restore the rare tall grass prairie and oak savanna habitat, the largest single remaining parcel of its kind in east central Ontario.

At TIC, Kassie is a Lead Field Technician for radio tracking species at risk (turtles) in the Rouge National Urban Park. She is jointly responsible for supervising and training the new Miziwe Biik trainees, as well as incorporating First Nations culture into their field work. Importantly, she is practicing conservation in her traditional territory while teaching other Indigenous youth different ways to contribute to conservation. When not outside doing field work, Kassie and other TIC employees travel to different First Nations communities in Ontario to help them implement their own conservation efforts. Being able to work at the Toronto Zoo with TIC has allowed Kassie to realize what it is she wishes to do in the future and in what direction she wants to take in her life. After Kassie graduates from Carleton University in Ottawa this November, she will continue her education with a focus on Environmental and Indigenous Studies.

CHEVAUN TOULOUSE is from Sagamok Anishnawbek, where she spent her youth in the wetlands, observing snakes and turtles. This led her to pursue a career in the environmental field, graduating from Sault College as a Fish and Wildlife Conservation Technician. Chevaun has been part of numerous outreach, education and mentorship initiatives, including Sagamok Youth Council and First Peoples of New Zealand exchange. She has previously worked as a Lands, Resources and Environment Technician on Sagamok, where she was responsible for promoting environmental protection, data collection, developing outreach materials and monitoring for Species at Risk. In the fall of 2016 she began working for TIC at the Toronto Zoo as a First Nation Conservation Technician. In addition to her outreach and education work, she is a Project Lead, involved in the reintroduction of the Blanding’s turtle and the Eastern Milk Snake to the Rouge Urban National Park.

Chevaun was a presenter/speaker at the Biodiversity without Boundaries event in Ottawa, where she presented on “Conservation as Tradition: Protecting Biodiversity in First Nations Communities”. Why Chevaun works in conservation:

“My reverence for nature, the opportunity to observe and help wildlife in any way I can, helping to preserve species at risk on First Nations, for future generations.”