Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum Re-writes History

By Julie Ruhl, Museum Collections Assistant

As the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum’s new girl on the block (I’ve been working here less than four months) I have been learning every day about issues impacting the Tribe.  NAGPRA (Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act) is one of those issues.  Domonique deBeaubien, the Tribal Historic Preservation Office (THPO) Collections Manager, who deals with this federal code every day, has this to say:

The current state of NAGPRA is varied across the US, with some institutions ready and willing to do the right thing, with others lagging behind the curve. The Smithsonian however, doesn’t fall under NAGPRA. Their repatriation policy is guided by the NMAI Act, which requires very little of Smithsonian Museums with regards to repatriation procedures, and is well behind nationally accepted museum best practices. The Smithsonian’s lack of Native inclusivity in their repatriation process is rooted in the inherent colonialism of academia, which is something we are fighting to change.

The following article is very relevant right now. It looks more critically at the African American Museum, but it certainly can be applied here: https://tinyurl.com/yxhlar2s

The Museum has recently been called upon to work with the THPO to assert and document the Seminole Tribe’s true history. Seminoles and their ancestors have inhabited Florida for thousands of years, not for only the last 150 years as written in most history books. We recently utilized our archival collection to further this research and to provide objective information pertaining to this subject.  We discovered key pieces of information and provided them to a Smithsonian representative to further validate the evidence of the Seminole’s longstanding Florida roots. This information, along with oral histories and other academic work, is being taken back to the Smithsonian Institution to support our continuing efforts to have the Tribe’s ancestors returned home.

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This historic document supports the Museum and THPO’s mission to provide the accurate history and ancestry of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, while also detailing the original arguments for draining the Everglades (ATTK Catalog No. 2004.1.844)

 

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In this journal article, Andrew Frank makes many valid arguments for the Seminole cause and brings forth a significant amount of evidence to validate his arguments. Dr. Frank has done a good deal of research on the Seminole Tribe of Florida and Florida history (ATTK Catalog No. 2019.6.13). If you’re interested in reading Dr. Frank’s article, follow this link:
https://tinyurl.com/y2p77ea8

According to Mary Beth Rosebrough, Research Coordinator for the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum:

This is the time when the Seminole Tribe of Florida is re-writing history, setting aside what has been written in schoolbooks and perpetuated by the media. American military history tells the story of three Seminole Wars. To the Seminole Tribe of Florida, the descendants of those that evaded capture and removal, it was one long War – 40-plus years of turmoil and harassment and conflict. The Seminole Tribe of Florida is also proclaiming its ancestry, not just as people who migrated from northern states, but as descendants of those earlier tribes known to archaeologists as the Calusa, the Apalachee, the Tequesta, etc. Both of these changes are critical to a new understanding that Tribal history belongs to those who lived it yet deserves to be universally heard.

In helping the Seminole Tribe of Florida bring their ancestors home and in helping to re-write history, I am fortunate every day to be involved in something bigger than myself.

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Saving History in the Digital Age

By Dave Scheidecker, THPO Research Coordinator

It all started with a lightning strike. One random act of nature on the island of Egmont Key started a chain reaction… and a wildfire. That wildfire cleared a large area of the island of dense overgrowth, revealing ground and ruins that hadn’t been seen in decades. This gave the archaeologists of the Tribal Historic Preservation Office a chance to survey the island where members of the Seminole Tribe had been held prisoner 160 years before. The survey led to a renewed interest in the Seminole History of the island that is now under threat, being washed away by erosion and climate change. These efforts led to new collaboration with the University of South Florida 3D Lab, a project to digitally preserve the Island before it is gone!

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The USF 3D Field School team plan their scanning strategy for the day.

In order to record the Island, we first had to receive permission from the state rangers and the park service. Then the USF professors and students took the Egmont Key Ferry Service to the island, riding with other visitors while bringing with them supplies, including multiple FARO 3D scanners and even a quad-copter drone! The team set to work, arranging the scanners to get the best possible angles to record structures like the Egmont Lighthouse and Battery Charles Mellon. The drone flew overhead of the lighthouse, the cemetery, and the old helipad built where historians believe the prison that held Seminole captives had been located. All of this information was then brought back to the 3D lab and sewn together by the students into lifelike computer models.

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The students of the USF Field School arrange FARO laser scanners to get the best possible overlapping views of the Egmont Lighthouse.

We try to preserve the history so that it isn’t lost to the sands of time, and in this case with the sands of the eroding shore. This has been done by recording and sharing the stories of what has happened, and what has gone before. But historians don’t need to be limited to historic methods, and new technologies give us incredible new ways to share these stories. When this projects is complete, people will be able to visit Egmont Key on their computers and even their phones. They’ll be able to walk through the lands like the Seminole ancestors did, and experience their stories in new ways. Long after the island may be gone, the story will be preserved online for the generations to come.

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The combined scans come together in the lab to replicate the buildings on Egmont Key. When finished, this will be a full color virtual explorable model!

Pinball Machines are Fickle but Ours Has Attitude

By: Nora Pinell-Hernandez, Exhibits Fabricator

Our giant “Journey to a New Home” pinball machine or as I call it, “Pinball V. 4.0”, is temporarily in our shop for repairs and improvements. The pinball machine works much how the housing process works for Tribal Members – confusing and slighting frustrating. Although our design includes infrared, magnetic and vibration sensors, it doesn’t always react the way it was engineered to. Someone wittingly mentioned that the pinball machine has taken the personality of the housing process because sometimes it takes a really long time to push your housing permits through and sometimes your contract gets stuck and no amount of shakes will get the ball rolling again. With this new round of improvements our sensors will be more accurate and the lights blinking as the ball rolls down the ramps will be almost dizzying – much how the real process it, but this time it will be intentional.

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Before taking down the pinball machine I made adjustments to the code of our Arduino (the micro-controller that reads and powers our lights and sensors). This is me, both frustrated and happy that I got the light bulb to light-up but not the motor.
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 “Journey to a New Home” with half the lights on. Soon it will glow with even more lights!
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This is the inside of the pinball machine. Notice ALL those wires? Some deliver power and some deliver signals to and from the sensor to the Arduino. The Arduino has a set of “if/else” statements that determines when a light or motor should be turned on.
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A family enjoying “Journey to a New Home”. They learned how to get the ball all the way to the end with a lot of patience and tactic.

We Are Here will be on view until the end of November 2019. Take a trip to our Museum and experience the frustration of going through the housing process on the reservation.

To-Pee-Kee-Ke Yak-Ne Community Center: A Place to Gather

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Sho-Na-Besh-Sha/Mvto!

(Thank you)!

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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