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Abigail Tigertail writes winning essay selected by Intertribal Agriculture Council

BiG CYPRESS — Abigail Tigertail will represent the Seminole Tribe of Florida at a December event in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Ahfachkee School teacher Dr. Rona Olukolu joins Abigail Tigertail, whose essay about Native agriculture, nutrition, diabetes and other topics earned her a trip to a conference in Las Vegas. (Photo Damon Scott)

As an Ahfachkee School junior, Tigertail wrote a winning essay chosen by the Intertribal Agriculture Council (IAC) for its competitive “Youth Essay Contest & Conference.”

She’s received a scholarship for travel expenses to attend the IAC’s national conference Dec. 10–13 at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Las Vegas.

Tigertail worked with Ahfachkee’s Dr. Rona Olukulu, known as “Dr. O,” to craft and refine the essay’s theme – “Sustaining Our Lifestyle.”

The essay looks at ways future Native generations can achieve “food sovereignty,” in part by utilizing the Native American Agriculture Fund and the Farm Bill.

The essay focuses on themes of Native farming, ranching, agriculture, nutrition and overall health, food supply and availability and food assistance programs.

It also seeks to bust some of the stereotypes society has about Native people.

“… There is more to Native American businesses than gaming and hotels,” reads part of the essay.

Teacher, student partnership

Tigertail was a student in Olukulu’s English class and the two have known each other for about two years. When she wasn’t attending Ahfachkee, she was enrolled at Calvary Christian Academy in Fort Lauderdale, where she lives, and is now homeschooled.

“She has lots of resiliency, is very smart and a determined worker,” Olukulu said. “For this particular project, I saw the passion. For her to be selected I think was amazing.”

Tigertail didn’t have a lot of time to prepare the essay for submission. By the time it was decided she’d write it and turn it in, teacher and student had about three days to do research and write three pages.

Tigertail said while the project was challenging, she was prepared because “Dr. O” had previously pushed her to achieve in her schoolwork.

“She’s a really good teacher. She pushes me and doesn’t hold anything back. She’ll tell you if it’s not good and what needs to be done to fix it. She doesn’t sugarcoat it. She’s one of the toughest teachers,” Tigertail said.

Tigertail said she’s “excited and nervous” to attend the conference and meet new people from different tribes across the country.

She’s planning on making the trip with her older sister, Ragan Osceola.

One topic Tigertail learned about through her essay research that stood out, she said, was how high the prevalence of diabetes is in Indian Country.

She learned that from 1994 to 2004, diabetes among Native youth increased by 60 percent.

Olukulu is originally from Trinidad and Tobago. She came to Florida in 2005 via Columbia University in New York where she earned her master’s degree.

She continued her education at Florida International University and recently earned her doctorate in educational leadership and administration. Her dissertation was on culturally responsive instruction.

“I wanted to see how I could use that form of teaching for minorities and the disenfranchised,” she said regarding her path to Ahfachkee.

“I was used to working in urban and suburban areas and wanted to see how my talents would be with a different ethnic group,” she said.

She now lives in Ave Maria, about an hour west of Big Cypress.

Family, hobbies

Tigertail isn’t just talented in the classroom. She’s also known as a good athlete who plays volleyball and basketball. She enjoys creating art as well. Some of her work has been displayed at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum.

She said she’s been sports-oriented for much of her life. “My dad made me start playing basketball when I was five,” she said.

Tigertail credits her parents for encouraging her to work hard in life.

“They always push me to do my best and they have me go to a different standard and don’t want me to be like other kids,” Tigertail said.

Tigertail has six brothers and three sisters. She’s the fourth oldest.

“She’s a very smart student and I really appreciate Dr. O,” said her mother Sheli Tigertail. “She knows what she’s capable of. Bright kids can’t get lazy.”

Tigertail describes herself as a little bit of a “tough mom.”

“Out of all my children she’s the one who wanted to go to preschool. In the second grade she tested and was gifted. She always wanted to learn something new,” Tigertail said.

Her daughter wants to attend college, but isn’t sure which one yet. She thinks she’ll choose a school in Florida or Oklahoma.

“I want to be a pediatrician, elementary [school] teacher and a lawyer,” the overachieving Tigertail said.

When she’s not busy at school or playing sports, Tigertail’s hobbies are reading and watching Gossip Girl.

Sustaining Our Lifestyle

By Abigail Tigertail

When people think of Native Americans, they think of huge gaming businesses and hotels, but there is more to Native American businesses than gaming and hotels. For example, some people do not think of Native Americans as farmers or ranchers, but many Native Americans in the Seminole tribe are in fact, ranchers and farmers. The government issued the Native American Agriculture Fund (NAAF) and the Farm Bill to help support Native American farming, ranching, and agriculture in general. The Farm Bill is a law that governs agriculture, nutrition, and food assistance programs such as SNAP. This bill is passed every 5 years by Congress and is referred to as the “Reauthorization process” – next reauthorization is in 2018. More so, the tenets of the Bill include food assistance programs, commodity crop prices, conservation, research, rural development, and bioenergy. Comparatively, the Native American Agricultural Fund (NAAF) emerged over discrimination of Native Americans in loan programs. The civil rights settlement from such has amounted to $266 million, which continues to serve Native American farmers and ranchers to date. Herein embodies two entities that can be employed to support the agricultural initiatives of Native Americans.

Although many people would think that most Native Americans – and more specifically, the Seminole Tribe – are wealthy, the reality is, many of them are living in poverty and are barely making ends meet. By issuing the NAAF and the Farm Bill, the government is aiding Native American families by providing a medium for us to initiate ways to increase inadequate food supply, and also to help us attain a healthier lifestyle.

In order to survive, it is necessary to have an adequate food supply. Many northern tribes are facing poverty and lack of provisions. For example, the South Dakota Crow Creeks are facing the problem of no food. This is a problem for many northern tribes because they do not have a reliable source of food or any local grocery stores to sustain their livelihood. The nearest grocery store is at least an hour away and sometimes they do not have the best food selection. On the other hand, the Seminole Tribe has a benefit, in that; it is currently the 13th largest cow calf producer in the United States. The first cattle ever raised in the United States were raised by Seminoles. This is one way in which we can utilize our resource of cattle rearing to sufficiently increase the food supply that comes to our reservation. By utilizing the NAAF, our ranchers will be able to get assistance with their business initiatives; individuals can receive agricultural education to be able to work effectively in the industry, and most of all advocacy services to Native American farmers and ranchers will be provided to support and promote their continued engagement in agriculture. Saying this, we have to make the effort to ensure that the necessary funding is available for us to locally fund our cattle rearing, thus using it as a source of income to help our impoverished communities. When our tribe is able to run an effective cattle business, it will not only help feed hungry families, but it will also provide more job opportunities for some families.

Regaining Our Future finds that the economic and dietary health of Native Americans is also influenced by the 2018 Farm Bill. As Seminoles, we sometimes do not extend our hands for help as we are a sovereign nation and we have the ability to sustain ourselves; however, the individual choices that we make have adversely affected us. Along with a more adequate food supply, the NAAF and Farm Bill can also provide Native families with a way to improve our habits of having a healthier lifestyle. There is such a cry for us to go “back to basics”, where we can focus more on food sovereignty. This is such a necessary phenomenon that we must seek for heightened engagement.

Undoubtedly, the most common health deficiency among Native Americans and Seminoles as a whole is the issue of diabetes. Studies have shown that Native Americans are twice more likely to have some type of diabetes than the regular American. The Tohono O’odham tribe located in Arizona has the highest rate of adult onset diabetes in the world. Also, according to a study done in 2017, it showed that nearly 30% of Native Americans is unable to access quality healthcare. Despite this occurrence, the Seminole Tribe has been blessed because they are able to use the health care resources that are provided within the community. With the Farm Bill, many tribes can produce their own crops and create sustainability. This will help to reduce the rate of diabetes in our communities. Between the year 1994-2004, diabetes among the Native youth increased by 60%. Diabetes in Native communities is so common because many Native reservations are in rural areas, with the neighboring towns and cities miles away from them, so that forces them to eat from local stores with high sugar, and fatty foods. Growing crops locally would help to decrease the rate of diabetes in many Native communities due to the healthier, fresher foods the people would be receiving. Title VII of the Farm Bill will be helpful as it covers farming and food research, education, and extension programs designed to support innovation, and research-based training for the next generation of farmers and ranchers. Food security keeps America thriving. “We’re not only investing in rural America in a variety of ways, but really investing in our own food security, which means national security,” said Rep. Crawford. However, we may have to think of access to land grants and how we can secure our 4-H initiatives if FRTEP is not funded.

As Seminoles, we must be prepared to become better advocates for our interests, and defend the programs on which our most vulnerable members depend on. We must look for new ways to achieve greater food sovereignty and food security. However, these opportunities for change do not happen by osmosis. Seminole youths need to be active agents of change. We can first start by sensitizing our communities to the opportunities that are at our disposal and this requires my involvement in every aspect of the community.

 

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Damon Scott
Damon is a staff reporter for The Seminole Tribune. Prior to moving to Florida, he was a reporter and editor for print and digital publications in his home state of New Mexico. When Damon’s not working on a story, you’ll probably find him at a hot yoga class or splashing around on some South Florida beach. Send him an email at damonscott@semtribe.com.

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