By Justin Giles, Oral History Coordinator
As we spring forward on the Big Cypress Reservation, the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum continues to grow with the seasons, as well. Our Museum staff has participated in a flurry of Tribal events and festivals this season with the goal of being an active part of the community. While our staff takes care of their day-to-day duties on the Museum grounds, we also have the mission of engaging directly with the Seminole community in a proactive way. Participating in events like the annual Tribal Fair, Seminole Shootout, and the Swamp Cabbage festival is a great way to conduct outreach with our constituency. Plus, there always tends to be great food to enjoy, as well!
In the spirit of being active community members, the museum is embarking on another initiative to bring our programs and services to the Seminole people. We have renovated a former Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) building located on the Big Cypress Reservation that until recently operated as the local pool hall. In the coming months we will open the To-Pee-Kee-Ke Yak-Ne Community Center as an extension of the Museum itself. To-Pee-Kee-Ke Yak-Ne translates to “a place to gather” or “a gathering place” and has been deemed an appropriate name for this newly renovated facility.
Specifically, the new community center will have a central focus on the oral history program and serve as a space where Tribal Members can feel welcome and comfortable to share and record their histories. We want to be sure that the building has a feel of a relative’s living room where conversation and a natural sharing of stories can happen without having to maneuver and find space on the main Museum campus. We will also have space to showcase our library’s large collection of photographs featuring Tribal Members as far back as the 1920’s from the various reservations.
The building is large enough to accommodate several of our traveling exhibit pop up banners that present Seminole life and history. Additionally, we have kept the gaming aspect of the building providing pin ball machines, foosball, and two pool tables open to the Seminole community.
Lastly, the To-Pee-Kee-Ke Yak-Ne Community Center will serve as an additional space on the reservation for birthday parties, cook outs, Tribal community and Council meetings, Museum staff meetings, and will be made available whenever the need to gather arises. The center will also serve as a place to post Tribal and tourist announcements for events, programs, and other happenings. As we finish the last touch ups to the building, please be on the look out for firm opening dates and events. We are excited for this opportunity to extend our Museum directly to the Seminole community and to have more open doors to share the Museum with visitors. The Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki is proud to serve the Seminole people and provide an educational center to the world at large eager to learn about Seminole and Florida history.