The Importance of “Where”

By Lacee Cofer, THPO Chief Data Analyst

Whether it’s researching a Seminole event that happened 100 years ago, or consulting with a federal agency on a project set to happen this year, we always ask the question, “Where?” The importance of place is integral to the work of the Seminole Tribe of Florida Tribal Historic Preservation Office (THPO). This is where the THPO Archaeometry team comes into play, to create maps to show exactly “where” things are happening.  The team is taking a unique approach to mapping in one of our biggest projects yet –an Ethnographic Study of the Seminole Tribe of Florida in the South Florida region.

Figure 1. Map depicting approximate project study area

An Ethnographic Study, or Ethnography, is a description of a group of people and their customs. THPO is taking a new approach to the concept of an ethnography to describe the Seminole Tribe of Florida, their customs, and how those customs relate to the utilization of land and water in the Everglades. Considering this, the team is seeking to protect the important cultural and environmental resources from future impacts due to Everglades restoration projects initiated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). Multiple USACE projects fall within the identified study area, however the study area goes beyond current project boundaries, aiding in its relevancy for future use. The goal is to utilize information compiled during the study to aid the Tribe in federal consultation projects that affect the future of the Everglades.

Figure 2. Work being done to drain the Everglades in 1906

So what does an Ethnographic Study have to do with mapping? A whole lot, actually! While the final document will contain maps that show areas of interest and concern for the Tribe, we first have to collect locational information from the Tribal Community that is shareable and does not contain any sensitive data that the community would like to keep private. This method of mapping, or collecting spatial data from community members, is called participatory mapping.

The THPO has had a strong participatory mapping program for several years. This includes using paper maps and having Tribal Members draw locations of significant events, camps, or other cultural resources onto the maps. Once a Tribal Member provides us this information, we digitize and secure the data to keep it safe and private and archive the paper maps for safe keeping. These maps are only accessible to a limited number of staff, but are available for Tribal member use.

Figure 3. Quenton Cypress works the participatory mapping booth at the 2015 Big Cypress Cattle Drive

We are hoping to have strong participation from members of the community to provide spatial data in relation to the Ethnographic Study. Our goal is for this project to bridge the communication gap between the Tribe and outside agencies whose projects impact the land. We want to reduce the confusion caused by unfamiliar terminology by using place names known to the Tribal community. The Tribe’s voice will be strengthened, and the connection the Tribe has to the land and water will be understood and respected by outside agencies during their consultations.

To help explain the project to the community, provide an opportunity for feedback, and request participation, the Ethnographic Study team is in the process of creating a Story Map to do just that. The Story Map will describe the Ethnographic Study, current federal projects the Tribe is consulting on, staff working on the project, and how to get involved! Keep an eye out for the upcoming Story Map, and you may have the opportunity to help us answer the question, “Where?” If you have any questions about participatory mapping at the THPO, please contact Chief Data Analyst, Lacee Cofer, at laceecofer@semtribe.com.

Dear Sally, What’s It Like Being an Alligator During the Coronavirus?

By Carrie Dilley, Visitor Services and Development Manager

While the domesticated animals in our lives (particularly our dogs, maybe less so our cats) have enjoyed seeing us all day during these recent times, have you wondered how our free roaming friends have been faring?  Our Alligator Pen Pal program, launched on April 13th, brings Sally, our resident alligator, into the homes and hearts of people everywhere. Sally has brought smiles to the faces of Museum staff and visitors for years, and now people who may not be able to see Sally in person can interact with her through handwritten or email correspondence.  People can chose to either write Sally a letter and send it to the Museum, or send an email to us at: museum@semtribe.com.  Everyone who writes to Sally receives a personalized letter or email in return.

We have been trying to come up with fun ways to reach our community during the closure and engage in new and interesting ways.  The Alligator Pen Pal program is just one of a number of new activities that we have launched in the past few months.  Our education coordinator created numerous games and puzzles, along with a guided painting activity, which have been distributed on our social media channels.  These activities bring our exhibits and collection into people’s homes.  Although the Alligator Pen Pal program is intended to keep youth and adults alike occupied during the closure, we don’t plan to stop the program once we resume normal business operations.

So far the program has been very well received.  Most of the senders have asked her specific questions including: what she looks like, how she likes being an alligator, what kind of toys she likes, does she like bacon, and does she like cars?  The letters are signed with love and many include drawings.  It has been great to see the support and appreciation of the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki, especially during this challenging time.

We are currently promoting the program on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.  Reach out to Sally today—she’s sure to write you back!

Summertime SWEP (and more)

By Alyssa Boge, Education Coordinator

Before you turn in your papers, do you always go over them to check for mistakes?  If it’s a must, Collections, Compliance, or Archaeology work might be right for you!

This was one of the questions (and one of the answers) on a quiz that Randean Osceola helped create for the UNITY (United National Indian Tribal Youth) conference in Orlando.  The goal was to get tribal students attending the conference to think about possible careers with tribal museums or Tribal Historic Preservation Offices (THPOs)—something Randean is very familiar with.  She has been volunteering or interning with us for several years now and has worked in various divisions and sections of the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum and THPO.  It’s been exciting to see her grow both personally and professionally from then to now.  This summer she gave a talk about Native American Women to teachers at Piper High School in Sunrise, FL, helped edit text about the Tribe’s history for the Seminole Tribe of Florida website, worked on archaeological reports, and helped design a product for the store.

Luckily for us, Randean isn’t the only student who returned to work with us this summer!  Students joined us either by volunteering or through a program called the Student Work Experience Program, or SWEP.  SWEP is administered through the Tribe’s Center for Student Success and Services and facilitates work opportunities during spring break and summer.  The goal is to help students gain professional development experience.

Some students who joined us last summer returned for both the spring and summer program this year like Chandler DeMayo.  One of his big projects this summer was to work on a coloring page that we will use in our next activity booklet.  Print it off, color it in, and send us a pic!

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Chandler’s epic coloring page for our activity book! 

Other students who came this spring, like Aujua Williams and Avery Bowers, also joined us for the summer.  In the picture below, they are looking at a yearbook in the Curatorial Lab.  This summer, they both helped out with our summer camp groups and worked on our teaching collection, among many other things.  For example, Avery worked with the Archaeometry section, too.

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Aujua and Avery examine a yearbook in the Curatorial Lab

Some students who had joined us for SWEP last year or this spring came back to volunteer like Clarice DeMayo, Jalycia Billie-Valdez, and Andrew Bowers.  They were able to help with Collections – organizing and housing photos from the Seminole Tribune, inventorying the collection, helping with cataloging objects, and creating mounts for objects to be used on exhibit. We are always excited when Jalycia helps out—she has such neat handwriting which is perfect for the task at hand!

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Jalycia’s neat handwriting – perfect for Collections work

This year we had a total of seven students join us to volunteer or intern through SWEP!  The last two summers we’ve seen an increase in the number of participants.  While these programs offer students community service hours, work experience, and a chance to delve deeper into their history, we also learn from students.  I always find out something I didn’t know before from Chandler.  Did you know earlier stickball sticks were more like giant spoons?  I didn’t!  Just as we learn from them, we hope they learn from us – beyond the technical know-how of Museum work.  And of course, we hope to see them again!

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Historic Image of Stickball sticks GRP1896.251

These aren’t the only programs we offer.  We also offer internships for local Ahfachkee students and internships and volunteer opportunities for non Tribal members.  You can find out more about those programs here: https://www.ahtahthiki.com/downloads/Intern-and-Volunteer-Program-Guide-6.4.2019.pdf.

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Jack shows Avery and Andrew a site on the Tribal Register of Historic Places during a field trip

 

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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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.

everglades-watercolor.jpg

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!