The 2015 American Indian Arts Celebration

by Carrie Dilley, Visitor Services and Development Manager

The American Indian Arts Celebration, or AIAC for short, has taken place each year at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki since the Museum opened in 1997.  The event has always featured an exciting line-up of performers, demonstrations, and vendors, and this year was no exception.  This was my second year as the overall event planner, but I have either attended or participated in every AIAC since 2008.  I might sound a little biased here, but I feel confident in saying that the 2015 event was the best AIAC yet!  Why was it the best?  Let’s take a look…

Visitation: The most obvious detail that set this year’s event apart from the rest was our overall visitation.  We were up 40% from last year! If we take a look back over the past few years, we see that we were up 55% from 2013, 144% from 2012 (no, that is not a typo!), 59% from 2011, and 35% from 2010.  We had a ton of schools come out and take advantage of our “education day” on Friday.  For the $5 group rate, AIAC is the biggest bargain of the year!  Most of our visitors came from surrounding areas but we also saw people from Canada, Italy, New York, Colombia, France, Germany, Connecticut, and Belgium.  Not only did visitors enjoy the festival, most also took advantage of visiting the Museum galleries and boardwalk for the full Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki experience.

Museum Parking Lot full of buses

Vendors:  At AIAC, there is truly something for everyone.  This year we had 44 arts and crafts vendors, three traditional Seminole food vendors, and two food trucks (three on Friday).  While many of our arts and crafts vendors were Seminole, we also had vendors from other tribes represented– Turtle Mountain Chippewa, Lower Muscogee Creek, Inca Ajibwa, Navajo, Miccosukee, and Dineh (Navajo). For something unexpected, TV-Head Co. joined us with a booth of wooden watches, bow ties, wallets, and sunglasses.


The Main Stage:  We had six different performers or demonstrations on Friday and seven on Saturday.  Tribal elder Bobby Henry provided the opening ceremony both days and engaged the audience with his traditional Seminole dances.  Billy Walker and Paul Simmons awed guest with their alligator wrestling shows.

Paul Simmons 1

The Warriors of AniKituhwa joined us from Cherokee, NC and provided a riveting dance performance.


Rita Youngman, Jerry Mincey, and Cypress Billie sang songs that told tales of Florida life.  Saturday’s patchwork fashion show showed visitors a contemporary take on a traditional Seminole dress and the Martial Arts demonstration put a whole new spin on a traditional reenactment.


Other Offerings: On top of visiting vendor booths and watching exciting performers, visitors could stop by the information booth for a food tasting featuring Seminole fry bread and sofkee. New this year, Museum and THPO staff acted as gallery docents to provide additional information to visitors inside the museum.  Saturday morning kicked off with a bird watching nature walk, where over 20 different species of birds were seen or heard!

Bird walk 3 WP_20151107_08_07_10_Pro

An outdoor exhibit installation featuring Seminole Spirit photographs, an archery station, Elgin Jumper painting “en plein air,”  a demonstration tent with three booths featuring Seminole weaponry, the Florida cow-whip, and Cherokee traditions, and a craft tent with three different (free) craft options rounded out the experience.  Last but not least, we partnered with Billie Swamp Safari to offer free shuttle rides to take our visitors to their park, where visitors could receive 50% off any attraction just by showing their AIAC wristband.

AIAC_Marlene Archery


TEAMWORK:  How did we make it all happen???  Teamwork!  The Museum and THPO staff came together and unified as one group to provide an exciting event to our visitors.  Even though the event took an incredible amount of planning, coordination, and hard work, we left with a huge smile on our faces.  We all went home Saturday evening knowing that we created an event that made the Tribal community and all of our visitors proud to be in attendance.


Juan Carrie Kate

The only negative of the event was knowing this was the last time we will have our MVP on staff, Mr. Gene Davis.  Gene, it it impossible to express how much we will all miss working with you!  Good luck in your future endeavors.

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Join us November 6-7, 2015 for our annual American Indian Arts Celebration!

AIAC Line-Up Announcement

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Who Cooks for You?

by Gene Davis, Museum Facilities Manager

A large bird of prey named the Barred Owl has been found in the early morning light perched in and sometimes on top of the traditional chickee huts at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum. This owl has been nicknamed the hoot owl because of its distinctive and powerful vocalization that sounds like someone saying, “Who cooks for you?”

Owl at chickee hut

Our institution is situated right on the edge of a dense cypress dome. Reinaldo Becerra, our animal specialist, told me that Barred Owls nest in large trees, but sometimes have been spotted roosting in human-occupied spaces as long as they are adjacent to fields or an open area in the forest canopy that the bird uses as a dusk-till-dawn hunting ground.

One September morning just after 8:00am, Rei walked me over to one of the chickees situated directly behind the curatorial building on our campus. He pointed out what he called a young Barred Owl perched up in the rafters under that open-sided chickee. It just sat up there about eight feet above the floor on a cypress wood cross beam staring down at us through its large brown eyes. Rei told me that this species of owl is the only typical owl in the eastern part of our country that has brown eyes. He said that all others have yellow eyes.

owl eyes 2

Rei went on to say that the Barred Owl is nocturnal making it easier to be heard than seen. However, the individual bird that has been visiting our campus does not have any fear of humans. It also prefers to perch up inside of the manmade traditional chickee huts rather than trying to find a hollowed out tree trunk.

Just recently I spotted the same owl on the ground during the daytime by a small pool of water in the cypress dome that had been created by recent torrential rains. The owl was feeding on crayfish that were cowered in the now receding water level. Although it was facing away from me; the attractive bird swiveled its head around to look directly at me. But just for a short while. It then silently fluttered off to the supper table while clutching one of the captured crustaceans in its beak.

owl crayfish

This same bird was spotted in the early morning just one day later lurking around on the ground directly in front of one of the village crafters’ work areas. Any owl is considered as a bad omen to the tribal members that create and sell their hand crafts back in the traditional Seminole village on the museum grounds. Luckily, peace of mind was restored when the owl didn’t linger long flying off to somewhere else where we might hear it again asking, “Who cooks for you?”

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Exciting Changes in the Museum!

by Rebecca Fell, Curator of Exhibits

It is very rare for a museum to completely shut down and de-install their exhibits. One good reason is to make renovations and updates. We recently had our ceiling and rafters re-stained and re-painted and new carpet installed. Both of these items were original to the building’s opening in 1997. For the long-term maintenance of the museum, these were redone.

More visible changes were made to the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki including opening up the museum shop by adding another doorway. And, replacing the visitor services desk – this new desk makes it easier for wheelchair bound visitors to purchase tickets and receive information from our visitor services staff and tour guides.

A New Opening

A new opening is made into the gift shop wall, adding accessibility and space.

The process for closing the museum required us to remove all of the objects, mannequins, and other items out of the galleries for safekeeping in our vaults. Not everything in our exhibits is moveable. Items, like our large canoe and trees, were covered In plastic so any paint drops wouldn’t ruin them.

Teamwork Ensures Safety

Working as a team ensures that large items, like this Noah Billie painting, are moved carefully.

Taking down and putting up exhibitions require a lot of help and careful coordination. We worked in teams and started with the most important items first: the historic objects on loan from other institutions such as the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, historic objects from the Museum’s own collection, and finally the mannequins. As many of you know, the mannequins are life-castings of tribal members. Because of this, we value them very highly and their take special care in moving and storing them.

Binding the Necklaces to keep them Safe

One step to keeping the mannequins safe is to wrap the women’s necklaces with plastic – this way they won’t break or get lost along the way.

Uncovering the Trees

Once the painters and carpet-layers are done we uncovered all the trees and other non-moveable backdrops.

As we gear up to re-open the museum on September 25th, we have begun to put the exhibitions back together. All of our permanent galleries will be exactly as they were prior to renovations. We will put back two temporary exhibitions: It’s Not a Costume – Modern Seminole Patchwork and Guy LaBree: Painted Stories of the Seminoles. We will also feature a new exhibition: Seminole Spirit, which highlights a couple of photographs by noted photographer Russell James, of Nomad Two Worlds.

The re-opening on the 25th coincides with National Indian Day and is part of the Tribe’s series of event occurring throughout the week and on various reservations. At the museum we will feature food tastings, guided tours, presentations, and a talk and film premiere with Russell James. The museum is open from 9-5 and events will run from 10-4. Come and join us!

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You Stay Classy San Diego: A Vlog from the Esri Conference

By Juan J. Cancel, Chief Data Analyst and Roberto Luque, Geospatial Analyst

Figuring out how geography can be applied everywhere was the theme for this year’s Esri User Conference. This is a conference with attendees from all over the world, that gather to help advance spatial understanding. We wanted to create a unique experience for our blog readers, so we decided to do a daily video blog to capture our trip. I hope everyone enjoys this and understands that our attendence represents more than just ourselves, it represents where we stand as an office and a Tribe amongst GIS professionals from around the world. We also want to thank Dennis Zielstra our videographer and Kate Macuen our video editor, we would not have been able to make this vlog without them. To view the vlog, please follow the YouTube link.

PS – Shout to all our peeps we forgot in the video: To Anne, Moe, Brad, Beck, all THPO Staff, all Museum Staff, Seminole Tribe and anyone else we forgot to mention! :)

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Honoring Alice Snow

By Megan Smith

Lake Tupke

Lake Tupke

Nestled between an exotic Caribbean garden and the colorful native Florida plant life at the Naples Botanical Garden is Lake Tupke, a charming man-made lake that has been named after the Seminole Medicine Carrier, Alice Snow. The lake, a year in the making, was a restoration of the native Florida Everglades environment which had become overgrown with invasive plant life.  The lake was officially opened last November 15 with a naming ceremony attended by Tribal members and other dignitaries. The chirping of native birds that have made their way back to the garden, the bubbling of fountains, and quiet cobblestone walkways filled with mosaics make this quaint garden the perfect place to honor such an inspiring Seminole tribal member.

Plants in the garden

Plants in the garden

Alice Snow was born in 1922, on the outskirts of Lake Okeechobee, where she grew up living in a village beneath the palmetto frond roof of a chickee. In her later years, she lived on the Brighton Reservation where she shared her knowledge as an herbalist by teaching her children and others about medicinal plants.

Alice Snow

Alice Snow

Spanning a generation of great social transition that included her move from her village to the reservation, Alice Snow witnessed many changes in Seminole life and tradition. She hoped that sharing her knowledge of healing plants would bring both traditional Seminole roots and the modern world together. She wrote and did research for a book entitled “Healing Plants: Medicine of the Florida Seminole Indians” alongside Susan Enns Stans that covers the uses and traditions of medicinal plants found in the Everglades. She also shared some of her knowledge with visitors, volunteers, and staff at the Naples Botanical Garden, inspiring the dedication in her honor.

Alice Snow with her twins

Alice Snow with her twins

The resilience of the Seminole people is shown clearly in Alice Snow’s work with medicinal plants as she shared her knowledge and gift with others. Much like Alice Snow, preserving and protecting Seminole culture and history is one of the primary efforts of the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum where people from all around the world travel to learn about the livelihood and deep history of the tribe. Future garden-goers may stumble upon Lake Tupke, curious as to whom the Seminoles are, hopefully choosing to satisfy their curiosity and visit our museum to learn more. There is no better way to honor Alice Snow’s memory than to share both her work as a Medicine Carrier and the rich culture of the Seminoles with the Naples Botanical Garden and their visitors.

If you are in the Naples area and feel the need for a calming respite, come in and stroll the shores of Lake Tupke at the Naples Botanical Garden!

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Summer Lovin

by Joy Murphy, Education Coordinator

Summertime brings lots of new, exciting, and some not-so-exciting things to The Museum. First, we’re sad to say goodbye to our Tribal student interns and volunteers. All of our Tribal student interns and volunteers attend Ahfachkee School on the reservation and the Education Section oversees their experience at the museum. Some have graduated and will be attending college this fall and after a short break, some will return to work with us either this summer or in the next school year. We were happy to have them and appreciate all of their hard work.

Some of the things that summer brings, such as the rain and the bugs, induce moans and groans. Other things, like baby animals and blooming flowers, bring about smiles of happiness. For the Education Section, summer means kids, activities, and fun.

Yes, this is the busiest and best time of year for the Education Section! For the third year in a row, we will participate in the Big Cypress Boys and Girls Club summer camp. An average of twenty campers will come to The Museum weekly for an hour of activities that will include storytelling, animal shows, and crafts. The campers are not required to come to The Museum, but volunteer to come because they enjoy the fun experiences that we offer.

For the second year, we will work with the 21st Century Learning program at Ahfachkee School. The 21st Century Learning grant, through the Florida Department of Education and the United States Department of Education, funds the program. This program focuses on S.T.E.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) and S.T.E.A.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) subjects. This year, we will teach them about scale and ratio by replicating buildings with Legos. Needless to say, we are very excited about “playing” with Legos.

Finally, for the third year, we will participate in the Family Services annual teen and youth camps. These camps are held at Camp Kulaqua in High Springs, Florida. For two weeks, campers will learn about nutrition, exercise, history, and culture in a fun, safe environment. This is collaboration with several different Tribal departments across all reservations. It’s an opportunity to introduce The Museum to Seminole youth from reservations that we don’t have the opportunity to work with on a regular basis, as well as build relationships with other Tribal departments and employees. This has been a great experience for us.



Figure 1: Winning “Minion” from the boxcar derby at youth camp. Tribal youth and Museum staff helped worked together to create this masterpiece.

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