Telling Our Stories Gains Momentum

By Carrie Dilley, Visitor Services and Development Manager

Here on our blog we like to give our readers a sneak peek behind-the-scenes and share the “how” and the “why” behind what we do.  We constantly strive to find new ways to share the Seminole story and help preserve Seminole history.  It’s critical that we stay relevant in the Seminole community and in the Museum field as a whole.

We opened our doors in 1997 and helped make a name for tribal museums across the country.  Over the past 20 years we have created and hosted top-notch exhibits and programs, and vastly increased our collection.  But over the past few years there’s been a desire to do more.  Share more. Exhibit more.  Educate more.

In 2015, we officially embarked on a journey to tell more of the Seminole story within our four walls.  Our current exhibits are great, but they are limited in their scope and only tell a small part of the overall story.  We try to fill in some of the gaps by utilizing our temporary exhibition spaces to highlight topics not covered in our permanent galleries, but we still lack the opportunity to completely immerse our visitors in Seminole history and culture.

By working directly with the Seminole community, our Exhibits team has overseen the development of a plan that utilizes the existing overall space to provide a dynamic experience full of oral histories, vivid imagery, and facets of culture that help us fulfill our mission.  In the exhibit redesign plan, the exterior of the Museum will remain unchanged, but the interior of the structure will be completely re-imagined save for the library, archives, and restrooms.  Studio Techtonic, the exhibition design firm we hired to head up the project, has just completed the schematic plans, which ready us for the next phase in the process—development of the construction documents.  We anticipate we have another 2-3 years until the project is complete, but we grow more excited with each step.

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Last year we launched Telling Our Stories, an $8 million campaign to make the redesign project a reality.  We are proud of what we accomplished and well aware that we couldn’t have done it alone. With the continued support of our donors and the Seminole Tribe of Florida we have reached our initial 500K milestone.

Please make a gift to Telling Our Stories Campaign today to preserve one of the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s most definitive cultural resources.  You can help us ensure that everyone has the opportunity to enjoy the powerful stories the Museum has to tell. Your tax-deductible gift to the Telling Our Stories Campaign, in any amount, impacts our work. Thank you for your continued support.

If you would like to learn more about how you can help us meet our goals, please contact us at: (carriedilley@semtribe.com)  or simply visit www.ahtahthiki.com/donate!

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A Tasty Sneak Peek of our Next Exhibit

By Rebecca Fell, Curator of Exhibits

The Museum puts up, on average, six new exhibits each year. Many of the exhibits feature items from the collection or from artists and students within the Tribal community. However, one particular exhibit always focusses on important themes or aspect of Seminole culture. This year, the staff took on the interesting but weighty topic of Tribal sovereignty in the exhibit We Are Here: Voices & Hands Making Community Happen.

There are many ways to talk about the Tribe’s right to govern themselves and what that looks like. But, to keep it relevant to most visitors, the exhibit will focus on the way sovereignty appears in day to day activities. The exhibit will also look at frequently asked visitor questions and set about answering them, because these are often really just questions about how the Seminoles are both similar and different from the rest of American culture.

The questions answered are:

  1. How does the community stay healthy?
  2. How does the community stay safe?
  3. How do Tribal members share information and knowledge?
  4. How is housing developed for Tribal members?
  5. How are the Tribe’s resources, water, and land managed?

This exhibit will share information on how these common human aspects are achieved in the Seminole communities with the assistance of the Seminole government. Interactive opportunities will allow visitors to understand how sovereignty is ingrained in daily activities and something all can participate in.

For instance, health is an important aspect of Seminole culture, an aspect that involves all generations. At the Boys & Girls Club, an after-school activity shows children how to build a healthy snack by teaching them to make parfaits and trail mixes using portion control. In the exhibit, We Are Here: Voices & Hands Making Community Happen, the exhibits team is making the “Build A Healthy Snack Interactive,” which gives visitors an opportunity to learn about building their own trail mix in healthy proportions.

Surely the Museum could have hired an exhibition fabricator to build such an interactive, but what is the fun in that?

Instead, the exhibits team gets the fun of gluing food to a board:

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making molds of the food:

and then painting food!

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Here is a planned drawing from the layout and design:

Health Section - TrailMix Interactive

Come check out We Are Here: Voices & Hands Making Community Happen on June 11th. And don’t worry about the calories from the (fake) trail mix. There will be a tricycle interactive for you to try and see if you can beat the cycling time of Seminole seniors from their annual Trike Fest.

 

Fashion, Beauty, and the Challenge of Identification: A Seminole Tribune Story

 

By Tara Backhouse, Collections Manager

 

Here at the Museum we’ve partnered with the Seminole Tribune, the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s own newspaper, to care for thousands of photographs that their hardworking reporters took for the Tribe for over 30 years.  From STOF events and community milestones, to personal vacations and news from Indian Country, these reporters really went to the ends of the earth in order to document decades of happenings.  You can imagine that is a lot of photos.  We estimate there are around 30,000!  Since they were transferred to the Museum in 2015 we’ve been working hard to get them cataloged and into our database, so that we can keep track of them and preserve them for the future.  I’m happy to report that we are almost halfway there, with over 15,000 cataloged into our database!  This is impressive if you consider that these are not the only objects we’re cataloging.  Seminole history doesn’t stop, and neither do we!  Come see us if you want to learn how and why we take care of the things we take care of.  It is definitely an eye-opener for most people.

 

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A screenshot from our collections management database: this is what a well identified photograph looks like in our system

These days, photographs are digital, and the newspaper has no need for our services with their current work. However, we are happy to help care for the pictures they took in the past, because they are a treasure trove of information about recent Tribal life and activities.  It’s our mission to help preserve those things, and it’s also our mission to bring this history back to anyone in the community who wants it.  One of the ways we do this is by providing copies of photographs in our collection to community members who want pictures of themselves or families.  In order to do this, we need to gather identifications, because not all of the photos come with any identifying information.  Getting photographs identified is harder than it sounds, and that’s because of the number of photographs we’re working with, and the fact that we have to preserve them once they are cataloged, and they can’t be traveled around and handled by lots of people.

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By storing photographs and documents in acid-free containers, out of direct light, and in conditions of stable temperature and humidity, we can ensure these objects last for generations

 

We can overcome the latter problem by showing people copies or digital versions of the photographs at a community event, for example, but it’s still an issue of scale. We can’t spread out 30,000 photographs on a table, so we have to choose a selection to take with us.

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This is just some of the 30,000 photographs we took custody of in 2015 and we had quite an organizational job ahead of us before cataloging could take place

And choosing the best selection of photographs is difficult. The people we run into may not know anything about the selection we have chosen to share at that time, but they might be very familiar with a selection of photographs that is waiting back at the Museum.  That is why the online collections section of our website comes in handy.  Here, people can search for names, places and events in order to find photographs they are interested in:

http://semtribe.pastperfectonline.com/

OnlineCollections

 

Other ways we can share smaller subsets of pictures are through the Seminole Tribune itself, and through the Museum’s blog! (Hint: that’s what I’m doing now)

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Recently I came across just one such subset. Last month I cataloged a bunch of similar portrait-style close-up photographs of well-dressed people.

 

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People are often wearing patchwork or other types of traditional Seminole clothing and posing thoughtfully for the pictures.

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 Traditional clothing is a popular category at STOF clothing contests, and in this portrait Jimmy O’Toole Osceola wears an early 20th century style bigshirt and turban combination (ATTK Catalog No. 2015.6.13240)

 

Maybe they were doing this because they were all ready to participate in a clothing contest, such as the ones held every year Tribal Fair.  People spend a lot of time making clothing for these contests and then get together to show them off and compete in categories. Indeed, some of the photographs are labeled with the initials “TF96” on the back, and we know that refers to the Tribal Fair celebration in 1996.

 

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This portrait of an unidentified man wearing a patchwork jacket and cowboy hat was taken at the Seminole Tribe of Florida Tribal Fair celebration in 1996 (ATTK Catalog No. 2015.6.14286)

But we’re not sure that all these photographs were taken at a Tribal Fair event. Clothing contests also take place at other times and on other reservations.  And some may not have been taking during contests at all.

 

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Rita Gopher takes part in a clothing contest in Immokalee in 1999 (ATTK Catalog Numbers 2015.6.14274 and .14275

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As the Museum and THPO’s first executive director, Billy L. Cypress often showed off traditional garb like this, so this photograph could have been taken at any number of events (ATTK Catalog No. 2015.6.13280)

 

We wonder how often the newspaper was in the habit of taking such stunning pictures of so many photogenic folks? Was it only for a couple of years?  Could it be for at any event or any location? Do you know any of the people that we haven’t identified in this blog?  Any information we can gather helps us preserve and share the past.

These are nice portraits, and we imagine that if you were the subject of one, you probably didn’t get a copy at the time.  It wasn’t that easy 15 or 20 years ago, when film had to be commercially developed and printed.  These days we can make digital copies quickly and we’d be happy to do that for you.  Maybe you’re looking for a nice photo of a family member?  Or maybe you just want to see what the Seminole Tribune reporters were up to from the 1980’s to the early 2000’s.  The easiest way to see our photographs is to browse over 11,000 through the online collections on our website.  Try this shortened link to bring up just the Seminole Tribune photograph collection:

 

https://tinyurl.com/y86latru

 

But if you’re in the area, you can also come to the Museum library to see the photographs.  We’re happy to help and it’s easier if you make an appointment.  Just call 863-902-1113 and ask for the Library.   See you soon!

Found in the Swamp: The Search for Fort Shackelford Part II

By Domonique deBeaubien, THPO Collections Manager

If you’re a regular reader of our blog, you may remember a special story titled “Lost in the Swamp: the Search for Fort Shackelford,” where Tribal Historic Preservation Office (THPO) Archaeologist, Shawn Keyte, recounted the harrowing challenges of locating a U.S. Army fort burned to the ground in 1855 by the Seminoles living on Big Cypress.

This winter, THPO Archaeologists Shawn Keyte and Dave Scheidecker continued their search to locate the lost fort.  Shawn and Dave, along with the rest of the Tribal Archaeology crew, were committed to finding the long lost fort. After a long and fruitless field season of metal detection, former THPO Research Coordinator Rechanda Lee commented that the only place they hadn’t looked yet was under the truck.  So that’s exactly what they did!

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The Truck: Sometimes archaeology is underneath it.

Surprisingly, this unusual methodology led to an exciting discovery: square cut nails from the 1800s!  THPO Archaeologists were so encouraged by this find that they put in several new test units to further explore what may be hidden under the surface.

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Archaeologist Shawn Keyte holding a hand-cut square nail found during metal detection.

A test unit is a small square shaped area where archaeologists excavate down carefully, layer by layer, until they hit bedrock.  This helps them see changes in the soil, and accurately document any artifacts that they may find. This new test unit yielded a very exciting discovery:  a burned piece of wood! This may not seem like much, but many 19th century forts were constructed entirely of wood. While we had located a few metal nails and objects that may have dated to the correct time period, what our archaeologists really wanted to find was evidence of the structure itself.  As the crew continued their work, they began to see a series of dark oval stains in the soil, each about the size of a post. As they continued to excavate, they realized that remnants of the posts were actually still preserved! According to Archaeologist Shawn Keyte, this post may have formed part of the stockade (or fence) surrounding the wooden blockhouse.  Officers would have kept quarters in the more robust blockhouse, while soldiers would have erected tents within the confines of the stockade.

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Test Unit 9, with brown oval features and dark ashy soils.

As exciting as this discovery was, the team wanted to ensure that the artifacts were removed from the ground safely. Robin Croskery Howard, Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Conservator, was called out to the site to help extract some of the wood for lab testing and preservation. Finding preserved wood in the Everglades is a rare occurrence. As wood ages in a moist and acidic environment, it often loses its structural integrity and rapidly decomposes. Our team wanted to be extra sure their find didn’t crumble to pieces after exposure to the air!  Shawn, Dave, and Robin worked carefully to extract the wood, as well as collect a sample of the dark soil surrounding each of the posts.

Once back in the THPO Lab, the Collections team set to work.  To get the most precise results possible, we often use radiocarbon dating.  In these instances we send out organic material, like animal bone or charcoal, and measure the amount of Carbon-14 left in the sample.  When a piece of wood is burned, the Carbon-14 in the object begins to slowly break down at a consistent rate.  Scientists are able to measure the amount of Carbon-14 present, and compare it to closely calibrated charts and determine a very precise age. If you look carefully at the soil in the test unit, it’s very dark compared to the light colored soils found nearby.  Such an intense darkening of the soil was caused by a large quantity of ash and charcoal produced by a fire.  The soil sample was packaged up and sent off to a lab in hope that they could extract enough charcoal in the soil to perform C-14 testing to determine when the fire occurred.

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Soil sample from Test Unit 9, with charcoal flecking

In addition to the soil, we also sent out a large piece from one of the wooden posts.  The lab will first use a high powered microscope to determine what type of tree the post was made from, and then use a small segment of the wood sample for C-14 dating!

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The carefully extracted wood sample. Is this part of the Fort Shackelford stockade?

We haven’t received all of the results yet, but some are in!  The charcoal in the soil sample dated to 1840 +/- 30 years.   This is exactly the date range we were hoping for!  This places our charcoal right around the time Fort Shackelford was destroyed, 1855.  While we anxiously await the results of our second C-14 date, we are left to wonder, did we find Fort Shackelford?  The Tribal Archaeology Section heads back out this April to continue the search. Check back soon to find out more!

Discover our Discovery Days!

By Alyssa Boge, Education Coordinator

What do atlatl throwing, swamp cabbage tasting and crafting have in common? They’re all things that you can do as part of our Seminole Discovery Day series!

Discovery Days are a great time to bring friends and family for a hands-on experience to delve deeper into the Seminole Story. Our first Discovery Day of the year celebrates Florida Archaeology Month with our Archaeology Day on March 10th. Meet actual archaeologists and learn about their quests for uncovering Seminole history. You can discover what makes Tribal archaeology unique and how our archaeologists work with community members.

You can also get your hands dirty. Be inspired by archaeological pottery and pinch your own pots out of clay. Play with Legos and examine artifacts to discover how archaeologists decode the past. You can also try using an atlatl! At-ul-at-ul isn’t just fun to say! Before people used bows and arrows for hunting, they used these spear throwers to help them hunt. The atlatl allowed to them to throw farther and with greater force. Finally we also have a special session just for Tribal Members to learn more about historic camp sites on our Tribal Register of Historic Places.

Archaeology Day 2017
Pinch Pot Activity, Archaeology Day 2017
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Atlatl, courtesy of https://www.crowcanyon.org/educationproducts/peoples_mesa_verde/archaic_artifacts.asp

Our next Discovery Day- Earth Day- on April 21st will highlight the importance of the Everglades to the Seminoles. Explore the Everglades with a tour along our boardwalk and taste swamp cabbage made from sabal palm trees. You can also find out about hunting with Daniel Tommie in his hunting camp and test your archery skills.

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Daniel Tommie
Daniel Tommie in his hunting camp

For crafty visitors, our Art at Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Day on June 28th is a great chance to get creative.  Be inspired by our Museum Village Crafters exhibit and art by the Pemayetv Emahakv students from Brighton Reservation on display. Visitors can meet Seminole artists and create their own crafts including beading keychains, coloring in Seminole scenes, and more.

July 28th, our Seminole War Day, offers more information about this important period in Seminole history. Play our Tools of Survival card game to gain a deeper understanding of the Seminole experience and find out more with a special exhibit.

Our final Discovery Day will highlight our upcoming exhibit “We Are Here: Hands & Voices Making Community Happen.” Understanding any government can be a mystery, but this exhibit will highlight different departments, showcasing the role they play in supporting the Seminole Tribe of Florida. Join us September 15th for special activities.

For the most up-to-date information on our Discovery Days offerings, check out our website: https://www.ahtahthiki.com/programs/.

We hope you will join us for these special programs.  Seminole Story Days, our first major series of public programs in recent years, began in 2016. The series started as part of an internship project with Eden Jumper, then a senior at the Ahfachkee School, whose marketing designs we still use! We followed it up with our Seminole Summer Fun series the same year. In 2017, we renamed the series Seminole Discovery Days and have continued to add programs under this title.  Become part of our new tradition!

Seminole Summer Fun
Seminole Summer Fun Postcard designed by Eden Jumper, 2016