Seminole Chickees: Unconquered Architecture

By Carrie Dilley, Visitor Services and Development Manager

While we constantly aim to engage with and educate our visitors, we also strive to break down stereotypes and represent Seminoles as modern and diverse. We want our visitors to walk away with the understanding that although they share many commonalities with other tribes, Seminoles also maintain their unique culture and traditions.

Chickees Are Not Tipis

We get excited when our visitors ask us questions. In particular, the one we hear quite frequently is “did Seminoles live in tipis?” Most visitors, especially if they are from Florida, would be able to look at a chickee and say, “Yes, I have seen those before!”  Often confused with a tiki hut or other open-sided thatched structures, the chickee (or Seminole home) was traditionally constructed of palmetto and cypress. Over time, chickees adapted to incorporate the use of more readily available materials such as pressure-treated pine for the structural components.  While similar in appearance and materials to other thatched dwellings, a structure can only be called a chickee if constructed by Seminoles or Miccosukees.

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Who Needs Air Conditioning?

Our visitors are sometimes astonished when we tell them that Seminoles lived in chickees year-round. Most people who live in enclosed homes cannot picture living in a home without walls.  However, we ask our visitors to imagine the temperature difference when you incorporate beautiful cross-breezes versus trying to stay cool in the middle of August in an enclosed structure with no air conditioning.  The temperature beneath a chickee is 10-15 degrees cooler than the outside air.  As a result, the chickee is comfortable in less than ideal temperatures.  In addition, the open sides enhance structural stability during hurricanes as the winds blow straight through it.  Chickees fare quite well during inclement weather and typically suffer only from some ruffled palm fronds.

For the most part chickees are not primary homes for Tribal members. However, they are still a prevalent and critical part of Seminole culture. Today, chickees are as unique as their owners.  They have adapted with time yet remain a hallmark of Seminole tradition.

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Cultural History Beyond a Simple Internet Search

When I Googled “Seminole chickee,” the Tribe’s website surprisingly does not come up as the top result. As more people come to know and understand the unique architectural and cultural history of indigenous peoples, we hope that researchers, students, and the interested public will come to the tribes themselves for information.  If you would like to come visit the museum and utilize our amazing library for research, feel free to call us at 877-902-1113 to set up an appointment with our research coordinator.  Also, be sure to check out our online database, as well as Florida Memory’s wonderful collection of images and information. You will be glad that you did!

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Agents of Change

By Kate Macuen, Assistant Director

I recently returned from a two day retreat with the Florida Association of Museum’s Board of Directors.   It was a productive couple of days where we discussed strategic planning for the organization.  As with any strategic planning session, we addressed some hard questions, such as: If the organization stopped existing tomorrow, would anyone care?  Breakout groups and brainstorming sessions during the retreat generated a lot of discussion on the value of museums within our communities.

At one point the facilitator threw out another tough question: Why are museums vital? We began to point out the more obvious reasons—museums are educational, they preserve our heritage, and they help drive the economy.  Someone then added, “Museums are vital because they are agents of change.”  This struck a chord.

Museums are agents of change because they challenge us with diverse perspectives.  They put the history that they work so hard to preserve into context with current social, political, and economic issues.  They connect us with new ideas and information.

Museums are agents of change because they can change people’s lives.

The value of museums is simple- they impact our lives.  Looking back at my own experiences I can see how the simple act of visiting museums has changed my own life.  Some experiences have been dramatic, while others have sparked a quieter, introspective moment.  I have visited exhibitions and had a powerful shift in perspective, giving me a new understanding of a historic event.  I’ve stood in front of a favorite painting and recalled memories from my past.  I’ve connected with people I may have otherwise never met through a shared experience at an interactive display that showed the ins and outs of the human nervous system.  How amazing to have places like this in our world that give us spaces to learn from one another’s heritage and knowledge.

I am so glad to be part of the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum team, who strives every day to be change agents. Our team shows me how their dedication to sharing the Seminole story translates into meaningful and impactful experiences for our community and visitors.  Being an agent of change is no easy task, but 2019 is looking bright as we march ahead with the courage and conviction in knowing that the work we do can leave a lifelong impression.

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How have museums impacted your life?  Share with us in the comments below!

How can you plan a group visit to the Museum?

By Alyssa Boge, Education Coordinator

Did you know the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum offers special programs for groups? Whether you have a group of students or a family reunion, we’d love to host you!

What is a group?

A group is any gathering of 10 or more people. You can bring your family, a club, scout troop, students, or any group of people who want to be a part of a shared experience.

What are the perks of being a group?

Admission for groups starts at $5/person. Groups can also sign up for additional programs such as tours and games!

How do I sign up?

In order to receive the group admission rate or set up a tour program for your group, all you have to do is call me (Alyssa Boge–Education Coordinator) at 863-902-1113 x12225 or send me an email at alyssaboge@semtribe.com.  I’m more than happy to work with you to customize your visit!

What types of programs are available?

There are many different programs available. Select the program that works best for your group.

Tours

Museum Film + Guided Gallery Tour (1 hour)

Start your visit with our panoramic film that provides an overview of Seminole history and culture. Next, explore our diorama style exhibits that transport you back in time as you discover Seminole culture. Our experienced guides will share the Seminole story with you and answer any questions during this interactive tour.

*Perfect for all ages

Marty Tour

Guided Boardwalk Tour (1 hour)

Explore our boardwalk which takes you through the Cypress Dome with a knowledgeable guide. As you walk our mile-long boardwalk, you’ll discover the Florida Everglades and how Seminoles used the ecosystem’s resources to survive and thrive.

*Perfect for all ages. Wheelchairs are available for those who wish to use them.

Boardwalk

Crafts

Beaded Bracelet (30 minutes)

Be inspired by Seminole beadwork to create your own beaded bracelet.

*This activity is great for all ages.

Beaded Keychain (45 minutes)

Create your own beaded keychain using Seminole colors.

*This activity is best for 4th grade and up.

Everglades Watercolors (45 minutes-1 hour)

Discover Seminole artists and how they’ve been inspired by the Florida Everglades. An instructor will show you how you can create your own Everglades painting using watercolor pencils.

*This activity is best for adults.

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Games

Knee Bone (20 minutes)

Toss the knee bone of a cow into the air to see where it lands and how many points you can get!

*This activity can be played by preschoolers and up.

Tools of Survival (30 minutes)

Would you survive the Seminole Wars? Find out with this card based game.

*This activity is best for 4th grade and up.

Tools of Survival

We Are Here (30 minutes)

Piece together a puzzle showcasing how Seminole Tribal government functions while exploring our newest exhibit that highlights the many Tribal departments.

*This activity is best for 4th grade and up.

How much does it cost?

Rates vary for student versus adult groups and all group packages start at just $5 a person. Check out our website for a detailed breakdown of package prices, or call/email us today for a personalized quote!

Through our Culture Access Program, we also provide gallery and boardwalk tours free of charge for Title 1 Schools and non-profit organizations serving low income, disadvantaged youth, or at risk persons.

Are meals provided?

The Museum doesn’t offer concessions. However, you are more than welcome to bring your own lunch and use our picnic area. You may also consider scheduling lunch at the Swamp Water Café inside Billie Swamp Safari.

Does the Museum have a Gift Shop?

The Museum does have a store where you can find custom Native American keepsakes to help you reminisce about your visit. If you are limited on time, consider purchasing our Museum Store Goodie Bags. Simply complete an order form in advance of your visit and pick the items up when you come. You can also order anytime online at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum Store.

Museum Store Goodie Bag

What else should I know about visiting?

Make sure to give yourself enough time to get to the Museum as we are located on the Big Cypress Seminole Reservation. You can find directions here: https://www.ahtahthiki.com/downloads/AhTahThiKi_Map_2016_prf2.pdf.

You may wish to a bring a sweater since it can get cold in the Museum.  For boardwalk tours, consider bringing along bug spray, sunscreen, and cash for purchasing items in the village.

Review the rules with your group before visiting. No food or drinks besides water are allowed inside the Museum. Photography is allowed, but flash photography is not permitted inside the galleries.

On your trip out to Big Cypress, we highly recommend making a day of it by also visiting Billie Swamp Safari.  Our Everglades Adventure Park, also owned and operated by the Seminole Tribe of Florida, is only 3 miles away!  Call them at 863-983-6101 to schedule your experience which may include an airboat and/swamp buggy ride, along with wildlife presentations.

Where can I stay overnight?

For overnight visits, we have two major options.  You can rent private chickees or chickee dorms at Billie Swamp Safari. You can also rent a cabin, tent space, or RV spot at the Big Cypress RV Resort by calling 863-983-1330.

We hope to see you soon!

 

 

 

 

Drum Circles and Their Place in Seminole History

By Tara Backhouse, Museum Collections Manager

The Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum’s mission is simple but broad: to celebrate, preserve, and interpret Seminole Culture and History.  It’s a beautiful mission and it’s a privilege to be able to dedicate so much of my life to its sentiments.  To be able to do it right, and I hope that we are, takes a lot of thought, analysis and action.  It’s not a simple thing, because culture and history are complex and all-encompassing.  Our focus in history covers a relatively small part of the world (the southeastern United States) and a very small part of the time that history has been happening, generally the last few hundred years.  However, the Seminole slice of history is still vast, rich and multifaceted.  We cannot tell the Seminole story quickly or easily.  It cannot be done in one exhibit, one blog, one tour, or through one historic object!  As the Collections Manager, that is my main concern:  the historic objects.  Additional devoted team members head up those other aspects, but we all work together to make sure we do our best with the same mission.

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Unpuzzling the Past

If you’re familiar with Seminole history, there are a lot of things you may recognize immediately as essential to our mission: a piece of patchwork, a doll or basket, and perhaps a historic photograph or postcard.

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We’re happy when we uncover a piece of Seminole history and culture that we haven’t talked about in a public forum. It’s not always obvious if an object that’s offered to us is relevant to Seminole history, and we have to scratch our heads and think outside the box at times like this.  This is what happened in 2017 when we were contacted by a Mr. Sigfried R. Second-Jumper, aka Siggy Jumper. Mr. Jumper told us he had a drum made by Thomas Storm Sr., and that it would be a great addition to our Museum.

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We recognized this object immediately as the type of drum used in western Native American drum circles. But a Seminole drum circle?  We’d never heard of that.  With Mr. Jumper’s help we learned that Cypress Prairie, the drum circle he participated in from 1998-2001, was a collaboration between Seminole and other native people, and that helped us to understand that it was indeed an important part of the Seminole story.

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Cypress Prairie members worked with local schools to teach drumming and share the joy they got from the music.

Totem Poles

The Seminole Tribe of Florida has welcomed the traditions of other tribes for at least 100 years. Around the turn of the 19th century, Seminole people became involved in tourist attractions that featured their own cultural traditions packaged in a way that tourists would appreciate and pay for.  In turn, people working in those camps were exposed to totem poles and other forms of art that weren’t traditionally Seminole.  So, they adapted and took on some of those traditions.

Some people say that things like totem poles need to be thought of differently, that they are not Seminole, because they originated on the west coast of North America. But in my opinion, that’s a very narrow viewpoint.  History doesn’t stop, and culture changes constantly.  And why should Seminole artists have been exclusionary in the early 20th century, when they saw totem poles and admired them?  After all, new skills helped Seminole people make money.  Anything that helped Seminole people gain economic independence after a devastating century needs to be appreciated.  For these reasons, we have totem poles in our collection.

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Collections Officer Robin Kilgo and Conservator Corey Smith prepare a totem pole for storage in 2012.

Showcasing Talent and Traditions

Tribal Fairs and Pow Wows are other venues through which Seminole people have long celebrated native talent from far and wide. Whether it is fancy dancers from the Great Plains or fire dancers from Mexico, all these performance traditions show the pride and resilience of native peoples who were disrespected, persecuted, subjugated, massacred and driven out of their homelands over a 300-hundred-year period.   So, it seems natural to me that native people would want to share the beauty that survived with each other, and that people from one tribe would learn the dances and music of another tribe.

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Drum circles have also been a feature at Seminole events for many decades. Some of the pictures in our historic collection illustrate the healing power of musical traditions like this.

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You can find pictures of the dances at Tribal Fairs and well as thousands of other pieces of Seminole history, by searching our online collections: https://semtribe.pastperfectonline.com/

If you need assistance, give us a call at 863-902-1113 and ask for the Collections Division.

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If you can, come see us at the Museum on Big Cypress! Objects from the Siggy R. Second-Jumper collection are on display until April 4th, 2019.  In the Selections from the Collections gallery you can read about his extraordinary story and you can be inspired by the beautiful music that Cypress Prairie created.  We will continue to collect stories like his that show the wealth and variety of Seminole life, so that we can do the best job possible to celebrate, preserve, and interpret Seminole Culture and History.  We need your help to make it happen.  Please contact us if you’re interested in helping tell the Tribe’s story!

Indiana Jones and the Pile of Trash

By Brandy Norton, Field Technician

Everyone thinks archaeologists live a super exciting life like Indiana Jones, running through booby traps and being scared by snakes. Half of that is very true…unfortunately, it’s the part about the snakes. Working as an archaeologist can be exciting, however, my definition of exciting is not going to be included in the next adventures of Indy on the big screen! Unless they really want to film “Indiana Jones and the Pile of Trash.” You see, archaeologists love a big old pile of trash. We call them middens to be a little more scientific. Middens in South Florida usually contain lots of what we call faunal remains, which are anything left behind when an animal dies, such as bones, scales, and shell. These faunal remains can tell us many things, including what people ate and where they lived. Middens also contain pieces of pottery (called sherds), bone tools, and occasionally stone tools (called lithics)–basically anything that people used and then threw away.

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Google map imagery of tree islands. See the classic tear drop shape.

Tree Islands

Archaeologists often find middens on tree islands. A tree island is an area of elevated land within the Everglades that was carved out by water flowing around it. The elevation paired with the availability of fish and turtles made these tree islands the most suitable area to live.  These places are often referred to as “hammocks.” Over time they developed a characteristic tear drop shape, making them easy to spot from above. Tree islands contain lots of vegetation, the most prominent tending to be oak trees and palm trees, but plants with edible fruits and berries, such as beauty berry and citrus trees are also common.

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What’s left of the turtle? Lots of shell!

Vital Information Discovered

The Tribal Archaeology Section (TAS) began investigating one tree island in 2016. We were able to recover over 24,000 faunal bones that let us explore the past lives of Okeechobee area people. We were able to get dates on some of the faunal remains, telling us when they were left behind, sometimes within a hundred years of their use. Knowing the time frame in which artifacts were deposited allowed us to compare those dates to large climatic events that have occurred in the last 1,000 years. This helped us to identify patterns in the availability of certain animals when climate was warm and wet versus when it was cold and dry. The most commonly identified animals were turtles, fish, and snakes. These are all aquatic (or water) species. These were the top three species throughout all climatic events, but the overall availability of these species decreased from A.D. 1430-1820. Deer were more common during droughts that occurred during this time, but they never cracked the top five! This means that, no matter what the weather, aquatic species were the most reliable.

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Taxa is a term for that refers to a broad range of animals when they cannot be classified more specifically. This chart shows the most common taxa from our investigations.

Confirming Faunal Remains Through Oral History

However, faunal remains cannot tell us why people do what they do. We have to rely on other methods to further understand what the faunal bones are telling us. One method the THPO uses often is called ethnography. Ethnography involves talking to the people who are currently living on the land (which here would be the Seminole Tribe of Florida) in order to understand what happened in the past. Because the people currently living in the Everglades have the same plant and animal resources available to them as the prehistoric occupants, we can try to see  what oral histories say about what people were eating and if that resembles the faunal remains we have found in our excavations.  If they are similar, we can make comparisons between the ways those animals were used now and how they would have been used in the past. Not exactly an Indiana Jones suspense tale, but exciting to us as we continue to learn more about the Everglades and the Seminole Tribe!