Strengthening External Relationships: The Army Corps of Engineers Cultural Immersion Workshop

By Carrie Dilley, Joy Murphy, and Annette Snapp

During the first week of March, the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum hosted the Army Corps of Engineers Cultural Immersion Workshop. The first on-campus Army Corps Workshop happened in 2008, but in 2014 we wanted to shake things up and make it a truly immersive experience.  The Museum set out to educate the Army Corps about Seminole culture, and to help them understand their connection to the land from the Tribe’s perspective.  We also wanted to foster a better understanding of the different ideologies of the two groups in order to build a more harmonious working relationship.   A combination of eager Museum and THPO staff, the Big Cypress Community, Seminole Tribal members, and excited Army Corps participants willing to take in Seminole culture made the workshop a huge success.


The workshop kicked off with an orientation inside the Museum’s theater. Rebecca Fell, Curator of Exhibits, opened with a discussion of the Dimock Collection photographs.  Dr. Backhouse and Councilman Tiger welcomed participants to Big Cypress and Willie Johns gave a talk about Seminole history. Following the presentations, there was a tour of the Museum.


Day one ended at Billie Swamp Safari with storytelling by Everett Osceola and Ollie Wareham, followed by a Twilight Swamp Expedition. Workshop participants spent the evening in the chickee dorms at Billie Swamp Safari.


Day two started with various section of the Tribal Historic Preservation Office (THPO) giving presentations. The THPO frequently works with the Army Corps on various projects and the audience was full of questions. Colonel Dodd (Army Corps) and Mr. Tommie (Seminole Tribe) both reflected on the importance of relationship building between the Tribes and the Army Corps.  Following lunch, a tour of the boardwalk given by Rey Beccera exposed the participants to important flora and fauna within Big Cypress.


The three generations of Seminoles discussion engaged the audience by offering insights on the past, present, and future of the Tribe from three different Tribal member perspectives—Quenton Cypress (high school student), Everett Osceola (30-something adult), and Willie Johns (senior).


The traditional dinner served in the Museum’s Living Village reflected many traditional foods enjoyed by Seminoles including lapoli (pan bread), gator tail, frog legs, garfish, sofkee, and swamp cabbage. Participants came from all over the country and most of them had never sampled these foods before.


A trip to Egmont Key (outside of Tampa Bay) on day three helped show a critical part of Seminole history—a time when Seminoles were removed from their homes and sent to Indian Territory. Egmont Key had been a holding area for Seminoles en route to Oklahoma.  It is simultaneously a source of pride and a source of sorrow for Tribal members.  It represents the tenacity of a people who refused to give up their lands by signing a peace treaty with the United States Government and at the same time reminds them of the hardships and loss they had to endure at the hands of the United States Government. The Army Corps of Engineers itself faces challenges at Egmont Key due to heavy erosion.  Without steps taken on the part of the Army Corps, the natural process will result in the loss of the entire island in time.  By visiting, they learned about the cultural significance of the island and the potential impact on people.



On the way back from Egmont Key we stopped at the Brighton reservation to give participants a glimpse of life on a different reservation and to show them key historic and modern buildings.

Day four consisted of the workshop wrap-up. Here the participants had the opportunity to provide feedback about their experience; they expressed their enjoyment and gratitude for such a great event.  We successfully shared the Seminole story and the Army Corps participants listened!

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Facing the Digital Future: Bringing Oral History into the 21st Century

By Stephen Bridenstine, Oral History Coordinator

Deep within the archives at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum there exists a special collection that is neither printed page nor Indian craft. It does not take up endless shelves of space but rather sits neatly in one small corner. And its value lies not in the physical objects themselves but rather in the precious information held within. It is the Oral History Collection.

As the new Oral History Coordinator, I inherited the responsibility to care for this collection, one of the most unique resources here at the Museum. Over eighty years, Seminole Tribal citizens, outside researchers, and Museum employees created an archive that reaches back to the earliest days of Seminole history. It is a collection that tells many stories, in many languages, in many different ways. And every month that goes by, it grows just a little bit more.


Rows of CD and DVD boxes are the most common sight within the collection

While the Oral History Collection is indeed a rich cultural treasure, as an archive it presents some unique and daunting challenges. Take for example the diversity of its physical forms. At least five different recording formats including micro cassettes, U-matic tapes, and MiniDVs exist in the collection, each the go-to format from decades past. What they all have in common, however, is their shared reliance on magnetic tape, a thin plastic strip coated with a magnetized layer built for practicality but not for longevity. Even under perfect archival conditions, these items slowly degrade putting the cultural heritage of the Seminole Tribe at risk. This prompted the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum to invest in the costly and time consuming process of digitization, completed in 2012. But with one problem solved, another soon arose.

In our increasingly digital world, nearly everyone has experienced the frustration of a scratched DVD, a failing hard drive, or a broken iPod. But the cost to replace a Hollywood film or musical hit is nothing compared to the literally irreplaceable treasures in the Oral History Collection. How do we then ensure the survival of a now completely digital collection still subject to hardware failures and technological obsolescence? And just as importantly, how do we make this collection open and accessible to the Seminole community without compromising its integrity?


The source material for a new all-digital collection

The Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum is currently working with Seminole IT and several outside vendors to find the best solution to both these problems. While most data storage is moving onto the internet these days, questions of security and sovereignty unique to this collection and the Seminole Tribe prevent a similar transition. The recordings are simply too precious to send off into the information super highway. Likewise, maintaining a digital collection within the Tribe facilitates the second goal.

Imagine any Tribal citizen being able to walk into a Reservation library, sitting down at a computer, and having the entire Oral History Collection just a click away. A tribal YouTube, if you will, exclusively about and for citizens of the Seminole Tribe of Florida. It is a lofty goal but one that would pay dividends for decades to come.

This is the future for audiovisual collections everywhere. Taking the jumbled mass of media from 200 years of creative endeavors and transforming it into a streamlined, accessible, digital archive. While the Oral History Collection here at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum has restricted access, the methods and models we have employed can be applied to archives anywhere.

To learn more about our project or for general inquiries, please contact Oral History Coordinator Stephen Bridenstine at 863-902-1113 ext. 12213 or

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Opening the Vault: Artifact of the Month Program

By Kate Macuen, Collections Manager

Did you know that museums and collecting institutions are only able to display a small percentage of their collections at a time?  Space, resources, and the fact that many artifacts cannot stay on exhibit for long periods of time due to preservation constraints are a few of the reasons behind this sometimes frustrating visitor experience.  Many museums have made creative efforts to increase a visitor’s access and to share their vast collections through open storage solutions, collection tours, and online exhibitions.

The Tribal Historic Preservation Office has been working hard on trying to increase access into the Tribe’s archaeological collections.  Currently, we do not have permanent exhibit space on campus, and although we are working on the development of future exhibitions, we realized there is a need to open our vault doors. 


 Starting in January, the THPO Collections staff launched a new online program called Artifact of the Month.  It’s a way for us to highlight unique and interesting artifacts in the collections that visitors would not normally get to see.  At the beginning of each month, a new artifact is chosen and displayed on the THPO’s website and the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum’s Facebook page.  The object’s photograph is accompanied by a description and history. In addition, our online visitors will also be able to browse through previous months’ artifacts.  The selection process is simple.  Artifacts that help tell the in-depth story of Seminole culture and history will be presented and of course staff favorites will be highlighted now and again!


Check Out February’s Artifact of the Month!

 By this summer we hope to expand this program by installing an exhibit case in our Archaeological and Conservation Laboratory to display each month’s featured artifact.  Our Laboratory can be viewed by visitors through the Observation hallway, which is part of the mile long boardwalk at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum.  

 observation hallway

For more information and to check out this month’s featured artifact please visit us at


Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum’s Facebook page

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Seminole artists featured in new exhibit at FGCU


James Powell, Registrar


Tennile Jackson, Collections Assistant

A new exhibit at Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) features the art of several Seminole artists.  The exhibit is called, Long, Long River: Tradition and Expansion in Native Art, and it is co-curated by FGCU Gallery Coordinator Anica Sturdivant and Seminole artist Jessica Osceola.  The exhibit explores the pull between tradition and contemporary for Native American artists.

FGCU Arts Complex

FGCU Arts Complex

FGCU Gallery Coordinator Anica Sturdivant

FGCU Gallery Coordinator Anica Sturdivant

Seminole artists featured in the exhibit include Noah Billie, Elgin Jumper, Jessica Osceola, Jimmy Osceola, LeRoy Osceola, Samuel Tommie, and Oliver Wareham.  The Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum was pleased to loan to FGCU two artworks for this exhibit.  From the permanent collection, the Museum loaned two painted cow skulls by Noah Billie.

FGCU exhibit "Long, Long River"

FGCU exhibit “Long, Long River”

FGCU exhibit "Long, Long River"

FGCU exhibit “Long, Long River”

Painted cow skull by Seminole artist Noah Billie loaned from the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum to FGCU Gallery.  Accession number 1997.61.2

Painted cow skull by Seminole artist Noah Billie loaned from the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum to FGCU Gallery. Accession number 1997.61.2

On January 9th, several of us from the Museum had the opportunity to travel over to FGCU to attend the exhibit opening.  The well-attended reception included artist introductions, performances, refreshments, and the opportunity to view this excellent exhibit.  The performances included an enjoyable story by Oliver Wareham, and an emotional performance piece by Elgin Jumper.  It was an enjoyable and memorable evening.

Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum Collections Manager Tara Backhouse and Museum Director Paul Backhouse

Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum Collections Manager Tara Backhouse and Museum Director Paul Backhouse

If you can, be sure to make arrangements to go to the exhibit soon, this short exhibit will run only through January 30, 2014.  For more information on the exhibit, visit FGCU Main Gallery’s webpage online at or phone the Gallery at 239.590.7199.

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Ringing in 2014: Add a visit to the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum to your calendar!

By Annette Snapp, Operations Manager

The Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum wishes you a safe and prosperous New Year as 2014 brings a chilly blast of air to Southwest Florida. The conclusion of one calendar year and the beginning of a new one causes many of us to pause and reflect on past accomplishments and to look forward to upcoming events and projects. We invite you to read on and find out what we achieved in 2013 and what you can look forward to seeing at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum in 2014!

I believe that some of the Museum’s best moments in 2013 were a direct result of the works created by Tribal students from the Ahfachkee and Pemayetv Emahakv Schools and displayed on the Mosaic Community Art Wall. The Ahfachkee School students created original billboard designs based on historic photos from the Museum’s Collection. Later in the year, the Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School students created tradition-based crafts. Both of these exhibits brought enthusiasm and excitement to the Museum as well as a peek into the future of Seminole art and creativity! The Museum looks forward to working with these Tribal students again in 2014!

What else can Museum visitors look forward to in 2014? Opening on January 17th is a new temporary exhibit focusing on “Seminole Music: To Sing as a Group: Multiple Voices of Seminole Music.” This exhibit will explore the Seminole style in various genres, ranging from hymns and folk music to rap. Videos, audio recordings, instruments, stage costumes, posters and other items related to Seminole musical performance will be available for viewing, listening, and enjoying. We hope you stop by soon and listen to inspirational Seminole music!


In the fall of 2014, the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum will be highlighting Native American skateboarding in the Smithsonian Travelling Exhibit, “Ramp It Up.” One of the most popular sports on Indian reservations, skateboarding has inspired American Indian and Native Hawaiian communities to host skateboard competitions and build skate parks to encourage their youth. Native entrepreneurs own skateboard companies and sponsor community- based skate teams. Native artists and filmmakers, inspired by their skating experiences, credit the sport with teaching them a successful work ethic.

These are the indigenous stories of skateboarding. Join us as we celebrate the vibrancy, creativity, and controversy of Native skate culture.


This new year is going to bring more than these brief highlights!  Check out our web site regularly at to see our latest event highlights.  Come and enjoy the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum to learn more about Seminole history and culture in 2014.

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(Posted by James Powell on behalf of Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum’s Exhibits Preparator Nora Pinell-Hernandez.)

Otter, Coffee and Sand – Bringing an Interactive Exhibit to Life

by Nora Pinell-Hernandez, Exhibits Preparator

Hi Friends!
With every exhibit there exists an immense amount of research and consideration involved to make the experience informative and engaging. The Education and Exhibits departments have been working hard to create an interactive activity at the Stranahan Trading Post located in the From the Land gallery of the museum. Visitors, especially students, will have the opportunity to trade deer, alligator, and otter pelts for supplies such as flour, sugar, soap, and fabric-much like what the Seminoles would have traded in the late 1800’s. The activity reinforces the concepts of trade, bartering and basic mathematics to students. As Exhibits Preparator, I oversee the production of props, signage, and display elements that make the space look and function as a trading post. This process requires technical drawings and many test pilots that will inform how the props will be constructed and displayed.
Lucky for me, the façade of the Stranahan Trading Post was constructed in 2007. The crate-like exhibit cases were modified into tables and shelves were constructed to go onto the larger crate. The technical drawing drafted by Rebecca Fell, Curator of Exhibits, was helpful to imagine where the tables will be positioned.

Technical Drawing of the Stranahan Trading Post Facade by Rebecca Fell, Curator of Exhibits

Technical Drawing of the Stranahan Trading Post Facade by Rebecca Fell, Curator of Exhibits

Flour, coffee and sugar sacks were bought with the intention to display them upright. I constructed eye shaped towers to stand the sack upright and created a shallow shelf that will support at least 40lbs of weight.

Sack frame made out of foam board. This shape gives the sack the appearance of being full.

Sack frame made out of foam board. This shape gives the sack the appearance of being full.

The sack frame made out of foam board was later dressed with cotton batting. Each sack was topped with a fabric that matched the color of the item: brown painted faux suede was used for sugar, muslin for unbleached flour and a dark cocoa sheer-weave for coffee.

Foam frame dressed with cotton batting and topped with faux suede.

Foam frame dressed with cotton batting and topped with faux suede.

To make the trading post look from the 1800s certain objects needed to be artificially aged. Small pieces from the sack were applied different stains to determine which method would be best to stain all sacks.

Samples: A.Coffee and green tea B. Coffee C. Swamp water and dirt D. Red clay smear

A.Coffee and green tea B. Coffee C. Swamp water and dirt D. Red clay smear

We decided to stain all the sacks using method A, which is a concoction of brewed coffee and green tea. The fabric was then dunked in a vat of this concoction 3 times in two hour intervals. This method is easier to manipulate and offers a more natural aged look.
Considering that the public will be interacting with the sacks, a weighted custom crate was constructed to go inside the foam shape – making the sacks less probable to knock over.

Crate that will hold a sand bag to go inside of the foam frame.

Crate that will hold a sand bag to go inside of the foam frame.

Another concern was the material that will be used to weigh down the crates inside of the foam frame and the filler for the brown bags on top of the sacks. Dirt and sand typically found outside may contain bugs, eggs and larvae which can cause severe damage to the collection. To combat the possibility of pest infestation, we decided to use “clean” sand which is sand that has been filtered multiple times.

Bag of sand in freezer.

Our bags of clean sand have been in our Back Bay Area for quite some time which is why we decided to err on the side of caution. We placed our sand in the freezer for over 96 hours in a freezing temperature of -18 degree Fahrenheit. Freezing objects is a preventative technique used to reduce the chances of pest infestation because it can kill insects that cannot adapt quickly to low temperatures.

Faux alligator skin, suede, and fur were purchased to mimic the animal hides that will be used to trade items. A pattern was created to make the process of making multiple alligators easier. Even the feet of the alligators where considered when making the pattern. My favorite part of the entire interactive are the googly eyes on the otter pelts.

The cutest otter pelts you will ever see.

Alligator pattern with optional stuffed feet.

The element that brings the entire exhibit together, and makes the interactive feel more authentic is the replica of a receipt sheet that would have been used at the Stranahan Trading Post. The original sheet was scanned and digitally edited by Rebecca Fell. The edited image was then printed on stacks of paper, cut to its original sized, and glued into booklets. Every visitor can now write and take with them a replica of a receipt sheet.

Original receipt sheet used at the Stranahan Trading Post.

Replica of the receipt book without the writing.

The Stranahan Trading Post took a lot of brainstorming, planning and painstaking labor. Though I truly enjoyed working on this project, nothing felt more satisfying than seeing all of the elements combined together to make an immersive space.



I hope you make a trip over to the museum and make use of our interactive. We otter see you there!


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(Posted by James Powell on behalf of Ellen Batchelor, Head of Security, Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum.)

Up On The Roof

by Ellen Batchelor

No this is not the 1962 Drifter’s song!!


The Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum is getting a long-awaited new roof!


While watching the workers climb to the 32 feet peak, I noticed I was not the only one watching! The visitors to the museum were also watching
while the workers swung from spot to spot while perched on the side of the roof!


Can’t help thinking how these guys really “earn” their money. The temperatures are a lot more intense up there with nothing to block out the sweltering sun, not to mention the heat emanating from the metal roof.

Work on the roof is expected to last for up to 9 weeks.  But, the Museum will be open regular hours, (9:00am to 5:00pm, 7 days per week), during the entire re-roofing project.  We apologize in advance for any dust, noise, or inconvenience of any kind.

“Up on the roof … it’s peaceful as can be … “

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