Where the Wild Things Are!!

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Figure 1 Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum pond

 

     by:  Ellen Batchelor, Head of Security, Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum

When you think of the Ah-Tha-Thi-Ki Museum, the last thing most people would think of would be wildlife, but the fact is, IF, you time it right, are really quiet, and VERY lucky you just might get a chance to see some. Visitors a couple weeks ago from Germany  actually got to see a panther and a bobcat on the same visit! At first we were thinking someone just had a very active imagination, but when investigating it further, we discovered tracks and then actually saw the bobcat while returning to the museum!

Figure 2 Florida Panther

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Florida panther

 

Figure 3 Florida bobcat

Figure 3
Florida bobcat

On most mornings it is not unusual to see several squirrels, a variety of birds, alligators and raccoons, while hearing the frogs, crickets, cicadas and birds but ,we have occasionally been able to spot, bear, deer, hogs, fox, opossums and turkeys. Rey Becerra, our resident animal expert, is available to answer any questions visitors might have about local wildlife. We have 2 hawks in residence. Ellen a Red shoulder hawk that was found on the boardwalk, as a very young bird, and then there is the Red tailed hawk Sable , we also have a crow, Charlie. They are all part of the animal presentations given here on campus from time to time, along with several turtles, various snakes (venomous and non-venomous) and various other “critters”.

Figur 4 Red shoulder hawk, Ellen

Figure 4
Red Shoulder hawk, Ellen

 

Figure 5 Red Wing hawk, Sable

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Red Tail hawk, Sable

We also have a resident alligator we call Sally.  Each year, she hatches a couple dozen baby gators who “hang around” until she hatches babies again.  They then move to the other pond or to other areas of water on our campus.  (Museum staff refers to them as the 1-year-olds, or the 2-year-olds, etc.)

Figure 6 Florida alligator, Sally

Figure 6
Florida alligator, Sally

Another big attraction at the museum each year is the arrival of hummingbirds. They arrive in late April and stay until mid to late July. It is quite a treat to see them zooming around in front of the museum and in the cypress dome. They “dive bomb” each other while feeding from the fire plants that are planted around the museum campus. Visitors and employees alike seem to be fascinated with their activities. There are over 300 species of hummingbirds, but only a few breed in the United States. A few hundred however, travel into the states as part of their migration. We feel so lucky to part of their route.

Figure 7 Red Throated hummingbird

Figure 7
Ruby Throated hummingbird

Let’s not forget that there are other kinds of wildlife! The flora of the Ah-Tah- Thi-Ki Museum is spectacular. The beautiful and lush ferns that take over the floor of the cypress dome at different times of the year are quite a sight as you wind your way around the twists and turns of the raised boardwalk. Parts of the dome stay wet for a few months out of the year making the plant life more lush and full than usual. You can find many species of ferns in the confines of the acres that make up the rear portion of the museum’s boardwalk. There are also guava, fig, plum, Custer apples, bananas, and grapes that grow in the area.You will also find several varieties of orchids.

Figure 8 Some of many ferns at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum boarwalk

Figure 8
Some of many ferns at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum boardwalk

There are also many trees and plants that are used by the Seminoles for medicine. Both modern and traditional medicines are used today. Signage along the boardwalk tells about some of the more commonly used plants, while also informing the visitor of the local wildlife that inhabits the area.

Figure 9 The Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum's boardwalk

Figure 9
The Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum’s boardwalk

Our winding boardwalk is just a little over a mile long. It is open to visitors year round, except when we have to close it due to lightening, or the occasional emergency repair. It winds through a cypress dome located directly behind the museum and was once home to Chairman James Billie’s camp. The twists and turns are themselves interesting enough, however, you add the element of not knowing exactly WHAT is around the next curve, making it a new experience every time! Most of my mornings start out with a trip around the boardwalk, and I must say it is a grand way to start the day. You can find me there on hot, cold, even rainy days. I keep waiting to turn the corner and get the photo of my life!

Figure 10 Florida wild iris

Figure 10
Florida wild iris

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The Tribal Archaeology Section and Historic Camps

By Karen Brunso

Hello from the people you see carrying backpacks and wearing boots that go up to our knees, or as we are known around here the Tribal Archaeology Section (TAS). One of the many tasks we undertake in the TAS is documenting and recording historic Seminole camps, which are an important part of Seminole history and culture. Camp research is an essential way in which the TAS works with the Tribal community in documenting and preserving the past.

What is a camp?

If you visit the museum, you will know how important camps were to the Seminole Tribe. Camps were, as Alexander Spoehr wrote in 1941, the center of everyday life for the Seminoles. These camps would be located within the hammocks and pine flats of South Florida. The camps were mostly based on a matrilineal kinship system, or a person’s clan was determined by their mother’s side of the family. Camps were comprised of members from the same clan along with a few members of different clans that were married to camp members.

     How does the TAS know where a camp was located?

Camps are recorded in multiple ways. Many times Tribal members tell us the location of camps in order to allow for their preservation. Camps are also recorded when the TAS uncovers artifacts that might point to the existence of a camp at that location. The TAS’s best resource to explain the artifacts is to ask the Tribal community about the artifacts found and if they are associated with a camp.

What happens after a camp is located?

After locating a camp, the TAS begins to gather information about the camp and the Tribal members who lived in it. Surviving camp members are interviewed to help provide more personalized details about each individual camp. The interviews bring the camp and its occupants to life. Camps transform into places where people lived, worked, played, and learned. Camp members map out the camp layout explaining the unique makeup of each camp. Interviews also bring the camp members to life showing their personality and character so that one can almost feel these people leap up from the photographs. Tribal members also help us identify people in photos, locations of photos, and correct any mislabeling of photographs that may exist.

THPO employees interviewing Onnie Osceola at the site of her house situated on the same location as the camp she lived in.

THPO employees interviewing Onnie Osceola at the site of her house situated on the same location as the camp she lived in.

In order to further document the camp, the TAS will go out and survey each camp. The methods we use are shovel testing (digging a hole one meter into the ground to determine the presence or absence of artifacts), pedestrian survey (walking an area to see what is on the ground surface), and metal detection. The TAS may use all or one of the methods mentioned, depending on each camp’s unique circumstances.

Hand drawn map of the Little Charlie Micco Camp by his son Billie Micco.

Hand drawn map of the Little Charlie Micco Camp by his son Billie Micco.

    What happens to each camp after the TAS researches, surveys, and records it?

The Tribal community decides what to do with each camp. Sometimes the camp is preserved so that Tribal children can learn about this important chapter in tribal history. Other times the area will be developed. The Tribal community will decide how the land should be used and who can build on it. It is through the entire process of researching camps that the TAS is able to work with the Tribal community in order to document and preserve these camps for future generations

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OUTREACH IS GROWING!

By Van Samuels, Outreach Specialist

Yes, Outreach is “growing” in more ways than one can imagine.  We’re growing in personnel, as we welcome Seminole Tribal member, Jake Osceola, to the Outreach team.  Outreach is literally growing, as well.  No, not in body mass index or age! (Although some would agree with that last sentence)  Outreach is growing a garden—a Seminole garden to be exact.

SEMINOLE GARDEN CONSTRUCTION UNDERWAY

Enhancing the visitor experience has been one of the many on-going endeavors of the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum.  This continued goal is evident within the interactive areas of the museum galleries and with the exciting exhibits that are forthcoming.  The Outreach staff has also been instrumental in working towards the mission of enhancing the visitor experience with the renovation and improvements at the museum amphitheater to ultimately provide cultural, educational, and informational Storytelling/Wildlife presentations (which are already underway).

The latest of the Outreach projects is currently under construction—the establishment of a Seminole garden.  Historically speaking, gardens were an essential element to survival in the Seminole camps throughout the Everglades, providing the sustenance of life, vegetables and fruits.

The proposed location of the garden is the area next to the replica ceremonial grounds, right before you arrive at the Living Village alongside the boardwalk.  Let’s take a look……

Approaching the Living Village, visitors will see the hint of some sort of development in the brush… what could it possibly be?

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The following are images of the ongoing construction currently underway

Jake and Rei discussing log placement and garden structure….

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Van “appearing” to supervise..……..from a safe elevated boardwalk distance

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GREAT JOB GUYS!

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This project is still in the developmental stages and will be completed in the near future. However, further information and images of the garden will be forthcoming as the garden begins to take shape and vegetables eventually grow, so stay tuned OR simply make plans to visit the Big Cypress Seminole reservation and the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum to behold our progress. SHONABISH!

 

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176 Years of Experience

By Mary Beth Rosebrough, Research Coordinator

“The Seminole Tribe of Florida’s Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum collects, preserves, protects and interprets Seminole culture and history – inspiring an appreciation and understanding of the Seminole people.” This is the Museum’s mission statement. It reflects our desire to reach every one of our visitors, researchers and guests. We strive to do this with a multi-generational approach to educating and learning. With that goal in mind, we would like to introduce you to our multi-generational Collections Library staff.

We found, after a little research of our own, that this year the ages of our four Library staff members fell into four successive decades. We thought it would be fun to take a photo and reveal to our readers how different generations complement and support each other here at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum.

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First, from left to right, we have Tennile Jackson, 29, fittingly the newest staff member in the Library. Tennile likes to say she has been working in museums her entire life (well, since high school). After starting out as a biology major at FGCU (one of our favorite universities), she fell in love with art history after taking the course required of all students. A degree in Liberal Studies with a concentration in Art History followed. Tennile acquired a second Bachelor’s degree in Art History while working at the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami and her career path was set! A Master’s degree in Museum Studies with a Certificate in Cultural Heritage Preservation from Syracuse University, and a stint in Americorps, landed her in Ohio, working in the Collections Department of the state’s Historical Society. While there she wrote a definitive book on Collection Care, which we use at our museum today. As the Collections Assistant, Tennile catalogs and creates housing for literally thousands of archival materials – bringing a fresh approach to dusty papers and musty tomes!

Second from left is our Collections Manager, Tara Backhouse, 39. Tara has over 15 years of experience in museums, moving with ease into positions of ever-increasing responsibility. A graduate degree in Anthropology, working at a museum in New Mexico, and a job as a (archaeological site) photographer in west Texas gave her the experience necessary to start a career in collections management. Tara came to the museum with her husband, Dr. Paul Backhouse, and began as a Research Assistant. She continued her career’s forward trajectory by getting a certificate in Museum Collections Management and Care from George Washington University, and receiving a Master’s degree in Library Information Studies from FSU. Much of the studying for these two academic achievements was done on the hour and half long drive to and from work at the museum – an achievement in itself! Thanks to Dr. Backhouse for doing the driving – we appreciate your support! Tara provides the leadership required to handle the varied duties of a manager here as well as the energy to accomplish the Museum’s mission.

Third from left, we have James Powell, 49. James brings 30 years of experience and knowledge to the position of Registrar, resulting from a varied, yet focused career in the Collections field. In the late 80s James earned a degree in Political Science from UF and worked at the University Gallery. Then on to the Library of Congress’ Prints and Photos Division, Tulane’s Manuscripts and Rare Books department, and the Historic New Orleans Collection as Curatorial Cataloguer. And if that isn’t enough, James earned a second Bachelor’s Degree, this time in Art History! From there, back to D.C. and the Library of Congress, in the Conservation Division, and a Master of Library Science degree from Catholic University. With degree in hand, James went to National Public Radio to help catalogue and archive the broadcast content of programs such as All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Talk of the Nation. James returned to his home state of Florida and happily came to work at the museum, first as Associate Registrar, moving to Registrar within the year. When we have a question about anything related to archives, artifacts or books, you know who we call – James!

To the far right is me, Mary Beth Rosebrough, 59, Research Coordinator. I am the poster child for “Never Give Up on Your Dreams!” because I landed my dream job at age 58. It all began with an internship at the Museum in the fall of 2009, while earning a second Bachelor’s degree, this time in Anthropology with a focus in Archaeology. While interning, I learned there was little piece of heaven on earth right in the Museum – a position called “Research Coordinator” in the Collections Division, researching and writing on Seminole culture while running the Library. What could be better? After my internship ended, I stayed on at the Museum for three and a half more years as a volunteer, continuing to associate with the interesting people who had the fascinating jobs I’ve described here (where else could you have a serious conversation about the best way to house a newspaper article from the 1930s?) while experiencing the beauty of the Museum and its surroundings. Luckily for me, the job as Research Coordinator opened up in June of 2013 and it has been a cloud nine experience ever since. My job depends on my public relations and years of volunteer experience to work with those who visit the Library. Want to come and do some research? Please call me!

Our multi-generational approach to Museum Collections has been a rewarding experience for us all. We represent the computer generation and the service generation, the newly minted and the weathered coin, working together in an effort to foster cohesiveness and accomplishment. We hope our multi-generational group complements and comprehends our fellow staff members and museum visitors, as we merge our strengths and serve the community of Big Cypress!

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Behind, Under and Over – Views of a Keeper

by Nora Pinell-Hernandez, Exhibits Preparator

Hi Friends,

If you ever visit the museum towards the end of the month, early or late enough in the day, you may spot a wild haired little lady wearing something that looks like a proton pack from the movie Ghost Busters. When the vacuum cleaner strapped around her waist is turned off her presence in the dioramas is almost unnoticeable. If you follow the bright yellow extension cord into the lively scenes in the permanent galleries you will see her crouching, crawling, tip-toeing or turning in the speed of a moving snail as not to disturb any props or mannequins surrounding her. Another clue of her presence is a plank of wood set carefully aside a tiny opening the size of a personal cooler. From that tiny opening she will awkwardly crawl out, dusty and a bit disheveled.

This wild haired little lady is me – keeper of the mannequins, light fixtures, and digital devices. Along with my other duties as painter, carpenter and art handler I vacuum clean the mannequins every month and assure that the light fixtures in the galleries are properly illuminating our displays. Visitors typically say in a startled tone, “I didn’t even know you were in there.” The less surprised visitors usually say, “I bet you see things no one else does.” It is true – even most of our other museum employees do not see the exhibits as I do. Behind alcoves, under acrylic sheets, on silk plants and over the shoulder of a mannequin I get to experience the exhibit in a unique way.

Below are pictures of the marvelous scenes I encounter during my treks inside the dioramas. I challenge you to identify from what vantage view these pictures were taken from in your next trip to the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum. And please, don’t be startled if you see me crawl out from under a chickee.

 

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Where Does Customer Service Begin?

by Gene Davis, Museum Facilities Manager

The Facilities Section of the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum believes that customer service really begins long before patrons enter our buildings. As a matter of fact, most of our guests whether individual families or tour groups plan their museum visit well in advance. It is unusual for people to be unexpected visitors at our remote location who just stopped in for a couple of hours while on their way down town.

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Our work group believes that customer service initially begins on the day when people leave their home with the intent of paying us a visit. We are relatively easy to find because the road to our front door from the Interstate only goes in one direction. Seventeen miles up Josie Billie Highway brings you to our parking lot. We believe that sufficient and accurate signage along the roadway directing you to our facility is an essential feature of customer service.

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Once in our parking lot the first impression of our facility begins. How often have you pulled into a business parking lot noticing trash scattered about, weeds growing through cracks in the pavement or broken parking space stops making you feel that it was not a well-run establishment? Our parking lot welcomes visitors with its clean pavement, appropriate handicap parking spaces, multiple trash containers and adequate signage directing visitors from their cars guiding them onto the paver brick walkway leading to the museum.

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Walking past purposely-positioned native plants and shrubs on their way to the front of the museum; people casually meander along the pathway or stop at the Everglades Trail kiosk for site information. Then they cross the street passing through our perimeter wall entry gate on the pedestrian sidewalk before crossing over the front pond via the elevated wooden walkway. Momentarily stopping to look around from the walkway visitors can spot fish, birds and reptiles as the campfire aroma draws them onward to the comfortable fire pavilion directly in front of the main museum building.

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Some people choose to relax here at the fire pavilion by sitting on a log bench and looking into the campfire that is maintained during business hours. Here again they notice the plant arrangements, the palm trees surrounding the circular driveway, and the centrally located life size statue of Abiaki that is a popular picture taking scene.

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This relaxing atmosphere is the exact first impression we desire to display. Is your walk from the car to our museum entry doors part of customer service? We believe that it is because customers and visitors receive their first opinion of our facility by visually inspecting it and making judgments on its cleanliness and appearance. Our intention is to impress visitors with our facilities. Accomplishing that task all the way from the parking lot through our entire complex will likely impact overall customer satisfaction as well as their eagerness to return or tell someone else about us.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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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