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.

Osceola
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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The American Indian Arts Celebration Now In Its 21st Year

By Matt Koenig, Last Call Marketing

Filmmakers John and Kenn Little will headline the 21st annual American Indian Arts Celebration (AIAC) presented by The Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum. They join us on the heels of touring the nation to discuss their 2017 debut documentary More Than a Word. This year’s event is hosted on the museum grounds in the Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation on November 2-3. Visitors can enjoy traditional and contemporary arts and crafts, dance and music of the Seminole, Southeastern and other Indian tribes from across the country.

From exciting entertainment, wildlife shows to fantastic food trucks, there is something for everyone. This is an event for the entire family and not to be missed.  The sensational backdrop for this event is the scenic Florida Everglades. The rich blue skies, verdant fields, and miles of sawgrass and hammocks provide the ultimate setting for this amazing celebration. Here’s a peak at our top entertainment:

John & Kenn Little

Little(3)Brothers John Little and Kenn Little are originally from Denver, CO are members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota.

John Little is currently a PhD student at the University of Minnesota. He recently completed his master’s degree in history at the University of South Dakota and is working on completing his Educational Doctorate. His thesis was on the Lakota and the Vietnam War. His goals are to write Indigenous people in the historical narrative and help Native students into higher education. His primary focus is on Native American veterans, music, cultural appropriation, and mascots.

Kenn Little is a graphic designer and filmmaker currently residing in Kansas City, MO. John received his bachelor’s degree in graphic design and new media from Full Sail University. His experiences include print design, typography, digital design, music and video. He has several short films and music videos to his credit.

Nakotah LaRance

nakotah6-time World Hoop Dance Champion and Native American Actor. He currently does both public and private performances. He was a principal dancer for Cirque Du Soleil’s “Totem” show and now does special projects for them.

Native Pride

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An internationally known high-energy show featuring an innovative blend of modern and traditional Native American dance styles.

Anthony Balentine

anthony balentine

Better known by his stage name Aye Five, is an unsigned rapper from the Big Cypress Reservation.  He will be joined by Carradine and DC.

Billy Walker

An alligator wrestler and storyteller from the Big Cypress Reservation. Billy began wrestling alligators in the 1980s and still catches alligators to use for his shows. He feels that gator wrestling is a way to preserve the traditions of the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

21st Annual American Indian Arts Celebration at a Glance

Friday, November 2, 2018 10 AM – 5 PM

Saturday, November 3, 2018 10 AM – 7 PM

Native American Art Vendors

Special Presentations

Music / Dance

Wildlife Shows

Food Trucks / Beverages

Same Day Free Admission to Museum

Free Parking

 

Save the Planet (Too)!

By Ellen Shoults Batchelor, Head of Security

Many exciting changes are underway at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum! In addition to our new THPO office building and our Museum re-design, we are also going green. Very green!

Upgrading to Green

We are doing our part to help conserve the world’s resources. We have eliminated the use of paper plates, plastic silverware, paper cups, and regular cleaning products, and changed to LED lighting, automatic flush toilets, and more.

Staff members have been issued water bottles for daily, reusable use. Water coolers, water bottle fillers, and water fountains have been installed and strategically located throughout our facilities to serve both our staff and our visitors.

We have set up a composter to “feed” our garden, which we plant several times a year with the help of the Boys and Girls Club afterschool program. Traditional crops are planted which we hope one day will be large enough in volume to help with the nutritional needs of the Big Cypress community.

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Saving the Planet is Now Our Culture

We are engaging our employees in our vision to save the planet. Creating efficiency goals, making it fun, and being inclusive is our focus. How can you measure our savings? How can our green mission enhance the Big Cypress community and better serve our customers? We will solicit ideas and input from our employees and hear suggestions from our visitors. Together, we can make a difference!

Hard Rock to Help ‘Save the Planet’ by Eliminating Plastic Straws

Hard Rock International (HRI) recently announced the goal to eliminate plastic straws at properties worldwide effective September 1, 2018, in addition to existing ‘green’ initiatives already in place at the Hard Rock Cafes/Hotels/Casinos globally.  On top of the straw initiative, HRI transitioned to paper only to-go bags in mid-August.

HRC Save Planet

One of Seminole Hard Rock’s founding mottos is to ‘Save the Planet’, and these recent initiatives are only an extension of the commitment they have made to do their part. Vendors and partners have been and will continue to be instrumental in activating their endeavors across the globe, and they are proud to help make a difference in conscientious sustainability practices as a business.

As leaders in gaming and hospitality, the iconic Hard Rock brand will be announcing more save the planet initiatives in the next few months, including partnerships with key charity partners that share the values of the business to help protect the earth’s natural resources and environment.

Human Energy Conservation

Healthy, energetic employees are more creative and productive. We hope to help keep our team healthy by creating a safe, non-toxic environment. We plan to serve sustainable brain food at meetings including: nuts, organic fruits and vegetables, and even dark chocolate– all which play a role in maintaining mental acuity!

Green Cleaning

Do you love the smell of a nice, clean office? Guess what: many of those familiar scents are toxic to your body and to the environment.  Replacing window cleaners, dish and hand soaps, and bathroom cleaners with healthy alternatives is key to our green initiative. The benefits include improved health, increased clarity, a reduction in allergic reactions, and a healthier planet.

Sustainable development cannot be achieved by a single individual or enterprise. Everyone must participate. We will demonstrate our leadership and commitment to a healthy, safe future by joining the ranks of business leaders who make sustainable choices. We will prioritize partners and vendors who share this commitment.

We have expanded our journey to being green and will continue to add initiatives whenever we see an opportunity to improve and help do our part to making this a better, brighter, more responsible community.

We will continue to save our planet!

 

Seminole Students Star in Museum’s Newest Exhibit

By Juan J. Cancel, Chief Data Analyst and Quenton Cypress, Community Engagement Coordinator

If this you are reading this, you’re welcome! You should be excited to read our companion piece to our upcoming exhibit “Are We There Yet: Engaging the Tribal Youth with Story Maps” and learn more about the really cool project the Tribal Historic Preservation Office (THPO) worked with in conjunction with the Ahfachkee School’s 11th grade students. The Archaeometry Section, which focuses on mapping and technology, created a project that teaches high schoolers about utilizing online mapping, images, photographs and written narrative to tell a story they feel is important to them. The students took on this task once a week during their Social Studies class throughout the 2018 spring semester. Many of the students learned research skills that will benefit them after high school.

We were always prepared to teach students something new during the class whether it was utilizing online mapping software (ArcGIS Online developed by Esri), learning about map projections, creating graphic organizers to consolidate their thoughts, helping them figure out how to become better researchers, or showing them how their opinions and stories matter to others. It was not always easy preparing the 18 lesson plans for the students and some days we struggled making sure our message made sense or figuring out how to work around the state’s testing schedule. Yet, with all the challenges, the students were able to turnaround six completed Story Maps—each with a unique and different voice that will be co-authored by our team to make sure they are ready for installation in our Museum Exhibit opening later this month.

Once the class was finished, the Archaeometry team, comprised of Lacee, Quenton and myself, took our experience and turned it into a Story Map, as well. We took our Story Map all the way to San Diego!

Lacee, Juan and Quenton (L to R) in the Map Gallery at the 2018 Esri User Conference

Quenton, Lacee and Juan (L to R) in front of the Tribal Session at the 2018 Esri User Conference

We presented our project, “Tell the Seminole Story: Utilizing Esri Story Maps to Engage Tribal Youth,” in front of other GIS professionals at the international 2018 Esri User Conference. In a room with about 60 GIS professionals, comprised of folks who work with Tribes and within the education field, who sat in and listened to us talk about our process—what we went through, what worked, and what didn’t work. The most impressive comment we received was from a lady who told us she felt inspired after hearing our talk and we felt honored to hear that our project would help her with her education work.

Juan, Lacee and Quenton (L to R) presenting the Story Map at the 2018 Esri User Conference

In the end, this project has taken us more than a year of preparations with days of grinding out the work to all come together to create an exhibit that we can all be proud of. This is where we thank you for taking the time to read this and we hope you come visit the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum and check out the students’ Story Maps that will be up from August 27th to January 8th of next year.

Be sure to check out our Story Map here!

 

Tribal Perspectives on Sea Level Rise and the Costs of Preservation at Egmont Key

By Nick Butler

Sea level rise in Florida is a real thing and is currently affecting thousands of significant sites along the coast. One site, Egmont Key, has been investigated by the THPO and may likely be completely underwater within the next 100 years. With the incoming tide of sea level rise, it is imperative that we capture the importance of this site and the gravity it carries in Tribal history.

Figure 1 Figure 1. Map of Egmont Key’s receding shoreline over the past 100 years.

In 1877, Egmont Key, an island located at the mouth of Tampa Bay, was approximately 580 acres in size. Over 100 years later, the island is just barely over 200 acres, as a result of erosion and sea water rising 4-8 inches in that time period. The Gulf of Mexico is swallowing up Egmont Key before our eyes. For the Seminole Tribe of Florida (STOF) and its members, Egmont Key represents the struggle between the necessity of preservation for future generations and the costs of those protections. Without immediate intervention, the island will only be a memory.

During the Third Seminole War, Egmont was employed as a concentration camp. Tribal Members have often likened Egmont to “our Auschwitz.” It’s a place of death, a crucible that serves as a memorial for Tribal members’ ancestors’ ability to endure the grimmest of hardships. As tribal member Rita Youngman explains, “Egmont Key is an important place since it is a reminder about how the Seminoles went on to survive one of the darkest periods in U.S. history.”

Tribal Members want action. It is their history to care for. “Whatever they can do, I want it preserved. Like they said, this is where she [Polly Parker] was. It’s like y’all said, we are losing sand and trying to get help with that, mainly,” said Nancy Willie. She is a descendant of Polly Parker, a significant Seminole figure who escaped capture while on the Seminole’s Trail of Tears and eventually made her way back home to south Florida.

Mrs. Willie, along with others, has only begun their journey into investigating ancestral heritage and the grave history of Egmont Key for the Seminole Tribe of Florida. She decided to make the trek to from the Hollywood Reservation on the latest community trip this past April.

Figure 2Figure 2. A testament to Polly Parker’s tenacity, six of her descendants journey back from the prison she escaped.

On April 5th, 2018 twenty-five to thirty members of the Seminole Tribe of Florida gathered from the Brighton, Big Cypress, and Hollywood Reservations to wait on a little ferry at a beach in Fort De Soto Park which is located just outside the mouth of Tampa Bay. Reaching later in life, Nancy Willie wishes to know more about the story of Polly Parker and others, so that she may share that knowledge with her children. If the island were to vanish, a vital touchstone to the Seminole ancestors would disappear with it.

Field trips have been successful for the purposes of educating members about the imminent challenges that are endangering Egmont Key. On these trips, they have the opportunity to witness for themselves the progressive deterioration, and it allows for the THPO to create a dialogue with the community.

Kevin Holata, a tribal member, shared his feelings about Egmont Key’s painful past. “It is a sensitive story and some tribal members may be hurt, but it’s about our history and it needs to be known.” There have been strides to keep the island intact. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers successfully completed two beach re-nourishment projects which used dredged material from the Egmont Canal. But is it enough to stave off the growing consequences of climate change?

Figure 3.pngFigure 3. April 5th field trip, Tribal members and THPO staff embarking onto the shores of Egmont Key.

In the summer of 2017, Hurricane Irma came barreling across the state, wreaking massive damage to Florida’s coasts, uprooting millions of Floridians from their homes. At Egmont Key, gusts of up to 91 miles per hour were recorded at the weather station located on the island. Structures that were once covered by beachy white sand now lay bare from hurricane force winds. Artifacts previously located during archaeological fieldwork have now been displaced from wind erosion.

Joe Frank, STOF BC Board Representative noted other communities all across the state have felt or will feel the harsh reality of “accelerated-climate change”, as evidenced by rising waters, beach erosion, and intensifying hurricanes. Among these issues, sea-level rise will surely be a herculean challenge in the years to come as waters encroach on shorelines. They will eventually inundate places of cultural and historical significance along the coasts. Places such as Miami Beach are already dealing with flooding during high tides.

Joe Frank, STOF BC Board Representative noted other communities all across the state have felt or will feel the harsh reality of “accelerated-climate change”, as evidenced by rising waters, beach erosion, and intensifying hurricanes. Among these issues, sea-level rise will surely be a herculean challenge in the years to come as waters encroach on shorelines. They will eventually inundate places of cultural and historical significance along the coasts. Places such as Miami Beach are already dealing with flooding during high tides.

Thousands of sites are threatened. Based on data from the Florida Master Site File (a registry of all cultural sites in Florida), a simple increase of three feet of ocean waters from current levels will impact 16,015 cultural sites; a further increase to six feet of sea-level rise will impact 34,786 culturally significant sites. Sites like these are valuable teaching tools that not only remind us of past social injustices committed, but can also instruct us on the future of the planet. “In the normal ebb and flow of human civilizations, when you have to rebuild,” says Mr. Frank, speaking on imminent impacts of cultural sites, “it’s best to know what they tried in the past, so you don’t end up making the same mistakes again.”

Figure 4.jpgFigure 4. Screenshot of NOAA’s Sea Level Rise Prediction Model. In an “intermediate” scenario by 2060, waters will rise approximately to 2 feet (0.6 meters) which will inundate over half of the island. From https://coast.noaa.gov/digitalcoast/tools/slr

The Tribe cannot be alone in this fight. The U.S. must step up its commitment to renewable energy. It has to further invest in environmental sustainability to combat “accelerated-climate change” from human activity by utilizing alternative forms of energy. It should be a global effort. As Mr. Frank points out, “What it gets down to is, yes, America and the whole world has to do a better job utilizing solar energy. I think there are a lot of countries that jumped on the bandwagon, and the United States just has happened to be dragging butt right now, kind of last in line.” Not only would these long-term investments help protect sites like Egmont Key, but communities living along the edges of the coasts of the United States could take a sigh of relief.

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Figure 5. In the aftermath of Irma, beach sand washed out into the Gulf uncovering an underground sand barrier to help slow down erosion at Egmont Key.