As the Seminole Camp Fire Burns the Seminole Tribe Grows…

by David Higgins, Facilities Manager

CHE HUN TAMO

To the Seminole Tribe of Florida the camp fire is a symbol of life.  It burns continuously, 24/7.  It is a reflection of family, life, and growth to the Seminole people. As the camp fire continues to burn the Seminole people continue to grow; when the Seminole people grow so does the Seminole Tribe.

Fig 1: Seminole Camp Fire in front of the Ah Tah Thi Ki Museum

As the Seminole Camp Fire burns the Seminole Tribe grows.  The Seminole Tribe had a vision to build a museum to hold their artifacts and collections.  They wanted a place that would tell their story.  A place that Tribal members and visitors alike could go and learn of their history and the times they endured from stories and visions of their elders and ancestors.  They built the museum on the land which their great leader “Abiaki” roamed, lived, and was buried near.  The first concept rendering of the museum originated around 1989 and depicted many buildings built around the cypress dome.  It had a dirt walkway which connected the buildings to the main building, the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum.

Fig 2: A colored picture of the first concept rendering of the museum and its buildings

Fig 3: The first concept rendering of the museum and its buildings

As the Seminole Camp Fire burns the Seminole Tribe grows.  The main Museum building was built first and located near the spot the original concept showed the building to be.   It opened its doors on August 21st 1997.  The Museum will be celebrating its 20 year anniversary on August 21st 2017.

As the Seminole Camp Fire burns the Seminole Tribe grows.  Soon they built the second building which was the Curatorial Building.  This building opened its doors three years after the Museum and it contains some office space, vaults, and a lab.  Two years after the curatorial building was built, they placed a temporary modular office to house the Tribal Historic Preservation Office and additional museum staff.

Fig 4: Temporary office building for the Tribal Historic Preservation Office.

As the Seminole Camp Fire burns the Seminole Tribe grows.  Although the buildings and their placements from the original concept has changed, the idea to expand the campus still existed within the Seminole Tribe.  The temporary office was not so temporary—it is falling apart and has outlived its useful life.  The outdoor restrooms and maintenance shop are insufficient and falling apart.

Now, twenty years after the Museum opened its doors, other buildings from the original concept are coming to life.  In the next few weeks the Seminole Tribe will begin to build a new Tribal Historic Preservation and Museum office building.  It will contain office space, a vault, and an archaeological lab.  They will build a maintenance shop to give the exhibits department and maintenance team an area to build exhibits, take care of equipment, and allow for ample on-site storage.  They are adding a restroom in the visitor’s parking lot to help with the visitors, groups, and schools groups which visit and tour their museum.

Fig 5, 6, & 7: Concept drawings of the new Tribal Historic Preservation Office

Fig 8: Concept drawing of the rest rooms in the visitor’s parking lot area

As the Seminole Camp Fire burns the Seminole Tribe grows.  The Museum was named the Ah Tah Thi Ki Museum which means “a place to learn, a place to remember”.  In August of 2017, the Seminole Tribe of Florida will be celebrating their 60th year anniversary.  The Ah Tah Thi Ki Museum will be celebrating its 20th  anniversary.  The Seminole Tribe of Florida and the Museum staff would like to invite you to come and visit their museum.  To learn and remember what the Seminole people and their Tribe has endured, overcome, and accomplished.  To watch the Seminole camp fire burn and watch the Seminole Tribe grow with a vision that started over twenty years ago.  To watch the concept of the museum grow and be fulfilled with the new buildings as they are built.   Come and help us celebrate our 20th anniversary and join us as we walk into the future in our beautiful expanded campus.  Check out the Ah Tah Thi Ki Museum’s website http://www.ahtahthiki.com/ , Twitter, and Facebook for more information on our upcoming exhibits, programs, and events!

Sho Na Bish

One Thousand Years in One Bandolier Bag

By Virginia Yarce, Development Assistant

This year we have been celebrating a “year of anniversaries” at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum, going back 10, 20, 50, 60 and 200 years, remembering turning points and accomplishments in Seminole history.

Retro Logo - 20 years

How about a memory over 1,000 years old?  With the new bandolier bags on display in our ‘Rekindled: Contemporary Southeastern Beadwork’ Exhibit in our West Gallery, there is a design that brings to life memories of another time, another people, discovered out of the sands of time in the waters off Saint Petersburg.  This is the type of treasured nugget that history lovers delight in, which is often hidden right in front of us as we take in the beautiful art on display.  Only we must go a little deeper, taking the time to listen to the oral histories accompanying the exhibit, or read a blog like this one.

Carol at Rekindled
Carol Cypress, reviewing her own ‘Rekindled’ oral history

The story starts soon after the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum opened in 1997, when another organization celebrating Native American history in Florida was in the making: the Weedon Island Preserve Cultural and Natural History Center located in Old Tampa Bay.   Archaeological finds along the coastline revealed the influence of the Weedon Island Culture on other indigenous groups, especially the ceremonial use of uniquely designed pottery.

Yat Kitischee

The Yat Kitischee Project shows the influence of Weedon Island Culture

Opening  in November, 2002, the website for the cultural center shares that: “the three-story center was designed with the help of Native Americans and keeps with their traditions. For example, the orientation of the center in the preserve is along the cardinal points of the compass (north, south, east and west) with the entrance facing east.  A special curved wall is representative of the remarkable pottery of the early Weeden (alternate spelling) Island people who lived on the island some 1,000 to 1,800 years ago”.

Weedon Cultural Center 

Unique design on the Weedon Island  Preserve Cultural and Natural History Center

 

Carol Cypress was on Weedon Island during the ground-breaking ceremony, and later for a cultural exchange after the center opened. The Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum and Ahfachkee School here on Big Cypress Reservation also joined other groups at that time to collaborate on the creation of a virtual tour showcasing Weedon artifacts through the eyes of Native American students.

virtual tour

Seminole Tribal members contributed to the Weedon Artifact Virtual Tour

In Carol’s oral history, she recorded how she was inspired by the unique designs created by the Weedon Culture, a people we will only know from the artifacts uncovered from the deep.

Pottery Artifact

Weedon Island Pottery Artifact – image from @weedonisland

While the dotted design work was in clay, Carol imagined it in beadwork, and created a blue bandolier bag inspired by the circular pottery designs.  In one of her audio clips (listen here), she tells of how these ancient unknown people are alive today with the Seminole through the honoring of their memory.  The untitled blue bandolier bag – blue like the waters where the design was discovered – is a 1,000+ year journey for Museum visitors to discover in the spoken words and fresh design, rekindling more than Seminole art and history.

Accession Meeting
Carol first shares the stories of her beaded bandolier designs on July 16, 2017 with Rebecca Fell, Curator of Exhibits, and Eric Griffis, Oral History Coordinator
Carol's Blue Bandolier Bag
Carol Cypress’ bandolier bag honoring the Weedon culture and people, currently on loan to the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum thru November 22, 2017

 

 

A New Chapter: We Come for Good

By Domonique deBeaubien, THPO Collections Manager

It’s a long standing joke within our department that we operate out of a tin can. Our tiny modular building, built as a five year temporary home, still stands nestled between the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum and a pristine cypress dome.   This little shabby structure looks a bit out of place in such a serene setting, but our office stands as a (not-so) subtle reminder that our Tribal Historic Preservation program can handle just about anything.

image 1
Aerial view of Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum and THPO modular building

It’s been a long journey getting to this point; the establishment of a Tribal Historic Preservation Office (THPO) doesn’t come with a guide book.  In fact, it doesn’t come with any instructions at all, so each THPO must carve their own path through this tangled wood of historic preservation.  Working within the field of tribal historic preservation is notoriously complex and demanding.  THPOs across the United States are charged with the preservation and management of a tribe’s invaluable cultural resources, and must operate within a complex dynamic of state, federal, and reservation law.  At the same time, a THPO must also uphold the values and beliefs of the tribe that they serve.  As you can imagine, this isn’t often an easy task.

The STOF-THPO is made up of four different sections (Tribal Archaeology, Compliance, Collections and Archaeometry) who all work together to protect the Seminole Tribe’s cultural resources.  On a daily basis we conduct archaeological field work, review lengthy field reports, investigate archaeological objects, drink coffee, lead tours,  make new and exciting maps, participate in community events, and much more! Every day brings a new challenge that supports the preservation of Seminole cultural heritage.

So how is it done, you might be wondering?  The STOF-THPO was officially founded in 2002 by order of Tribal Council.  On the eve of the THPO’s 15 year anniversary, the Seminole Tribe of Florida has partnered with University of Florida Press to publish “We Come for Good: Archaeology and Tribal Historic Preservation at the Seminole Tribe of Florida.”

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We Come for Good: Archaeology and Tribal Historic Preservation at the Seminole Tribe of Florida

This volume serves as a guide to share the challenges, battles, and victories of the Seminole Tribe’s THPO program.  We Come for Good offers a unique tribal based perspective on how a THPO operates, builds internal capacity, and strives every day to become a leader in historic preservation.  So if you really want to know how it’s done, then all you have to do is read the book!  So please join us in celebrating this monumental achievement.  Grab your own copy online, and sit back and enjoy the journey.

image 3
THPO Field Technician Shawn Keyte reviewing We Come for Good.  He really really likes it. 

Counting what Counts

An Inventory Adventure

By

Misty Snyder, Collections Assistant

Completing an inventory doesn’t sound like the most exciting thing to the majority of people…

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… but it is a very important component of Collections Management. Here at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum we have 8 main collections. These include:

 

1) Permanent Archival Collection- all items that are essentially paper in nature (newspapers, postcards, photos, government reports, books, periodicals, reference works, maps, and  manuscripts).

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2) Oral History Collection- oral histories and other recordings from the Seminole community, subject to controlled access procedures.

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3) Audiovisual Collection –non-accessioned film and audio recordings of various Seminole events.

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Tribal Spirits: Indians of the Americas

4) General Reference Photography Collection – a non-accessioned collection of photos and slides that depict Seminole life in Florida.                                   pic5

Color photo of women in traditional clothing cooking in a chickee.

5) Library Collection – books, journals, and unpublished manuscripts relating to Native American culture, museum practices, and the archaeology of Florida, accessible to the staff, general public, and Tribal community.

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“American Indian Art Magazine”, Spring 1979.

5) Permanent Artifact Collections – all non-paper-based historic items such as baskets, clothing, militaria, archaeological collections, beaded items, dolls, artwork, sculptures.

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Female palmetto fiber doll w/ one row of patchwork.

 

6) Teaching Collection – a non-accessioned collection that consists of objects used by education and outreach staff at presentations and events.

7) Exhibit Collection – a non-accessioned collection containing objects that can be permanently exhibited or loaned out with STEP traveling exhibits.

8) THPO Collection – archaeological materials obtained largely from surveys conducted by the Tribal Historic Preservation Office (THPO) since 2003.

(To see more amazing items from these collections check out our Online Collections Database here: http://semtribe.pastperfectonline.com/)

The current inventory project includes the first 4 of these collections, which are housed in the Archival Vault, and serves two purposes: to satisfy our Collections Management Policy of a biannual inventory of our collections and to prepare the collections for offsite storage during the completion of a vault renovation. This renovation, made possible through a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services’ “Museums for America” collections stewardship program, will install high-density movable shelving in the Museum’s main building vault. The new shelving will double our current storage capacity, providing much needed space to continue to grow the collections as well as to properly house items.

In order to install compacted shelving in the archival vault, EVERYTHING needs to be removed from the vault and stored elsewhere, and to do this, it must all be accounted for through an inventory.

pic8

The types of items that were inventoried range from artwork on paper, historic newspapers, rare books, government documents, manuscripts, photographs, postcards, maps, and a large variety of audiovisual and ephemera materials.  Many have already been cataloged and housed in archival materials.  But some of the items, not yet cataloged, have needed some extra attention. For example, we removed enough rubber bands from recently acquired photos to make a rubber band ball the size of a softball! Just think of all the photographs that were saved from the deteriorating effects of being bound this way.  Not quite a world record, but we were impressed …

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World-record rubber band ball (according to Google)

After insuring that each item was adequately protected we securely packed them into over 200 moving boxes and recorded their respective locations.                       pic10

Some of the boxes were big enough to hold a person!

   And we used four of these giant rolls of bubble wrap. I’m all packed up and ready to go!

Very soon the collection will be transported by museum moving specialists to offsite museum quality storage where it will be stored in a temperature and humidity controlled environment while the renovations take place. So far we have inventoried over 140,000 items, including over 100,000 photos!

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             “97,873 Ahh, Ahh, Ahh…”

These photos have come to us from multiple sources, one being the Seminole Tribune. (The Seminole Tribune is the official newspaper of the Seminole Tribe of Florida and is published monthly. You can access Seminole Tribune articles online here: http://www.semtribe.com/SeminoleTribune/)

We have just a little more to go to complete this part of the project and are getting ready for the big move. Being new to the Museum, it has been a true adventure getting to inventory the entire archival collection. The work has been both fascinating and laborious – and a great introduction to the priceless wonders cared for here at the Ah-Tah-Thi-KI Museum each and every day.

 

 

A winter walk

A treasure to experience during any season, walking the Museum’s mile long boardwalk gives you a wonderful chance to see plant and wildlife distinctive to the Everglades environment. However, winter brings a certain tranquility that is unique compared to the warmer and rainier months.  The bald cypress trees have shed their needle-like leaves, opening up the top canopy to clear, bright blue skies.  Their tall trunks are in constant sway with the seasonal breeze, creaking back and forth.  Take a moment to stand still and stare up at the towering trees.  You’ll almost feel like you are floating or swaying too.

blue-skies

winter-green

Although the cypress are waiting to grow back their leaves, there is no lack of greenery.  At first glimpse  the dense vegetation all appears to be one color.  But look closely, moving to where you can see the sun peek through the leaves and you’ll soon see endless shades of green appear.

woods

sun-and-leaves

The boardwalk is full of life during the winter months.  Unlike northern states, South Florida’s pleasant temperatures bring migratory birds to the area, invite alligators to bask in the warm sun, and continue to foster the perfect environment for new plant life.

wild-coffee-berries

tree-close-up

airplant

squirrel

On your walk, make sure to take the time to look in all directions.  You never know who you will see or who might be watching you!

gator

boardwalk

sho-na-bish

Whatever the season, the boardwalk is sure to transport you away from the hustle and bustle of the every day, opening your eyes to Florida’s true beauty.