FORT MYERS — The final night of the Florida Gulf Coast University Native American Film Festival, which ran from Oct. 25 to Nov. 15, featured two films produced for the Miccosukee Tribe’s museum. The films were followed by a panel discussion which veered from the films to Native American lifestyle and more.
Tina Osceola, Seminole, and Houston Cypress, Miccosukee, introduced the two short films, “So We May Grow” and “We Must Not Forget” and took questions after the films’ screening.
“You’ve seen a great diversity among the films in this festival,” Osceola said. “There is no such thing as the Native American perspective. We are not a homogenous people and we don’t fit into any box.”
“We have a storytelling tradition and we are expressing them in new ways,” said Cypress, artist, filmmaker and environmental activist. “We have a place in the cinematic universe.”
“So We May Grow”, is a word for word and shot for shot remake of the original film made in the 1980s. The film, narrated by Native American actor Adam Beach, tells the story of a boy learning traditional Miccosukee ways from his uncle during a journey through the Everglades.
“We Must Not Forget” reinforces the role of women who are responsible for keeping the culture alive, thus impacting the future of the Tribe. The film was inspired by Miccosukee elder Virginia Poole and is narrated by her daughter Gina Poole.
“So many times we go to museum exhibits about us and they don’t know anything about us,” said Osceola, former director of the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum, board member of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian and current Tribal Court associate judge. “We need to tell our own story.”
During the lively question and answer period, students, professors and other attendees lobbed questions about the films, Native American lifestyles and the environment.
One questioner asked whether filming in the Everglades shows how it is changing. Osceola said it is easy to see the change by viewing films done on location in the 1970s. Miccosukee lifestyle is synonymous with the Everglades and it was a priority to show that in the new films.
“Without a healthy Everglades, the Miccosukee wouldn’t exist,” she said. “The films take you back to the way it once was; there is no better way to do that than through cinema. You can inspire people through film who may not have been otherwise.”
Both films stressed the importance of maintaining a connection to traditional culture while having to adapt to modern life.
“Our Native story is all about adaptation,” Osceola said. “We had to adapt because there was no other choice. We [Native Americans] all have that shared experience. We call each other brothers and sisters because we all experienced it. Adaptation is in our DNA, we can survive anything. The ability to do that bonds us together.”
“By upholding our culture and traditions, we are continuing the circle of life,” added Cypress.
An audience member asked whether it is more important to focus on the modern or more traditional lifestyle.
“We don’t live in the 1800s because of our traditions,” Osceola said. “We are also creating new ones. Our culture is all about authenticity and identity. Museums around the world will tell the story long after we are gone. We are telling our own story.”
The panel discussion addressed remains found in the Gulf of Mexico near Manasota Key that are now being housed at FGCU. Osceola is trying to get the state and the university to cease its research and return the remains to the sea.
“We need to tell that story through film, there is no other way to tell that story,” Osceola said. “Telling it in our own voice is important for the future.”
Someone asked about a typical day in the life of a Seminole or Miccosukee member. Osceola said it doesn’t differ from anyone else’s who has a large family; she talks to them every day.
“My daily life is about protecting my people,” she said. “Professionally I like to burn villages down. If I piss off a few people and burn down a few villages, that’s OK. I don’t want to die without doing something.”