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Immokalee preserves culture under cooking chickee

Traditional Cooking07

IMMOKALEE — The Immokalee and Big Cypress Culture Departments did their part Jan. 31 to perpetuate Seminole culture by teaching others how to prepare a traditional lunch.

All Seminoles who wanted to learn were welcomed to get busy in the cooking chickee at the Immokalee ranch. Traditional dishes on the menu included sofkee, Indian stew, frybread, spam and tomatoes, deer and garfish.

“We want to teach the younger generation,” said Cynthia Osceola, of Big Cypress. “We let the inexperienced ones do small things to start, and hope they come back.”

Less experienced volunteers learned from seasoned veterans at the fire, and throughout the day, Osceola offered a steady stream of tips, instructions and praise as she helped create the feast.

New female participants learned how long gravy takes to thicken on the open fire, how to properly prepare dumplings for stew and how to fry garfish. They wore traditional skirts to protect their legs from the fire beneath the grate.

Men cleaned freshly caught garfish and a bird outside the chickee. Occasionally someone would help the women move a heavy pot, but mostly they remained outside the cooking chickee.

The event was the first of a monthly luncheon that will rotate between Big Cypress and Immokalee, said Vincent Jimmie, Big Cypress Culture manager. They aim to have seniors and younger generations work together to maintain culture.

“We want the younger generation to taste the food and have the elders come and remember,” Jimmie said. “The culture is still there, but we don’t do this too much anymore. We are supposed to eat what nature provides to keep us healthy and committed to our culture.”

The Immokalee community embraced the day: Some showed up to learn while others showed up to enjoy the camaraderie and the meal.

Immokalee Board Liaison Dorothy Scheffler came to learn.

“It’s nice to come out, be with everyone and keep our culture going,” she said. “I didn’t grow up doing this, so I’m learning also.”

Joshua Garza proudly helped hunt the deer and catch the garfish.

“I want to get involved and be part of my culture,” Garza said. “It’s good to see everybody come out and give a helping hand.”

Immokalee Council Liaison Raymond Garza was pleased with the turnout. He said the events help build good relationships within the community and give Seminoles a chance to gather for a common cause.

Holding onto the heritage and passing it down will remain the focus of the events, Jimmie said.

“In the past, people fought and died for this way of life,” he said. “It’s not just a lifestyle; it’s a gift from God and we have to hold onto it.”

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Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at beverlybidney@semtribe.com.
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