Seminole Big Cypress Reservation: Culture, Kool-Aid & Gators!

by Justin Giles, Oral History Coordinator

The Seminole Tribe of Florida’s Big Cypress Reservation is a well-established tourist destination located in the Florida Everglades. Each day I witness the reservation’s popularity as I say hello and welcome visitors to the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum.  Travelers from across the globe to the local Floridians like students and tourists make their way to the Big Cypress Reservation to have a good time and experience a little slice of Seminole life.

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Summer Work Experience Program participants pose with a “pointing man” sign on the Museum’s boardwalk

Big Cypress enjoys warm weather year-round. Visitors have a good time here as they visit Billie Swamp Safari and eat nuggets made from gator tail after a day of touring the Florida Everglades in a swamp buggy or airboat.  Guests join in the fun at numerous events like the upcoming American Indian Arts Celebration on November 2-3 while visiting the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum. Guests are reminded as they sip their Kool-Aid at Sweet Tooth Café or sample fry bread at the Swamp Water Café that the Big Cypress is also home to many Seminole people. The Seminole Tribe has a proud history and culture that was once purposefully closed off the rest of the world by the Seminole people themselves.

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 Justin with Big Cypress artist Paul Bowers

As the Oral History Coordinator, I have the privilege of understanding Seminole history and culture with a bit more insight than the average visitors that make their way to the Florida Everglades and Big Cypress. After all, one of the main facets of my job is to interview Tribal community members about their life growing up Seminole and to record oral histories passed down from generation to generation.

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Justin with Carol Cypress at the Big Cypress Senior Center

These interviews are either audio or video recordings which are then accessioned and archived into the Museum’s oral history collection.  Some of these recordings may be restricted and are only to be viewed or heard by Seminole tribal members, while others are available for researches or used as supplemental material for museum exhibits. The mission of the Oral History Program is to preserve historical and contemporary Seminole life for the future generations of Seminole people.

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Justin (far left) and Cherrah Giles (far right) with Tina Osceola and family, and Sonya Cypress and family, at an exhibit about Seminole patchwork

Many of the oral histories that Seminole community members share with our program talk about a time of survival when fighting against encroachment on their ancestral lands from Spain and the United States. The Seminole historical figures from the Seminole War such as Osceola, Abiaka, and Micanopy are indeed legendary.

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Osceola, a painting by Robert John Curtis

These great leaders fought hard to maintain and preserve their Seminole way of life and hold on to the land of their ancestors.  Many other oral histories chronicle happier times like the stomp dances, birthdays, social gatherings and everyday contemporary life. After all, the Florida Everglades and Big Cypress Reservation are home to these stories and to a thriving Seminole culture.

There is certainly a lot to experience and learn while visiting the Seminole Big Cypress Reservation. Additionally, you can also visit other Seminole Reservations in Hollywood, Brighton, Immokalee, Ft. Pierce and Tampa. Just keep an eye out for the bears, panthers, and gators and remind yourself that you are visiting the home of the great Seminole!

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Many alligators, even cute baby ones, live on Big Cypress

 

 

 

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Author: Collections Division

The Collections Division manages the Museum's collections, produces and maintains exhibits, conducts the oral history program, and staffs the Museum's village.

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