As participants and spectators, Natives from throughout the United States convened in early February for the Seminole Tribal Fair and Pow Wow at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Hollywood. It was my second time attending the event, but I witnessed my first grand entry. Throngs of Native dignitaries, performers, and entertainers centralized on the floor in Hard Rock Live to celebrate Native American culture and history.
The majority of people in America have a known heritage in which they can identify. There is something special about living in a country and being able to fully embrace your own heritage. The Mexicans I grew up with in North Carolina always had a strong sense of pride with being from Mexico. The few Hmong classmates of mine would don their traditional regalia at my high school’s cultural festivals and would share samples of Hmong dishes. In general, having pride in who we are and where we originate plays a great deal in who we become.
Solidarity is one of the core characteristics our people are known for possessing. During menacing times throughout Native American history, unity was necessary for survival. In modern times, this is evident with issues such as the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline. The protests have led to national outcries and helped fuel public support of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. The land has traditionally been a huge part of our culture as Natives and is one of the many reasons we come from such a rich ancestry.
Through brief conversations I have had with my Seminole relatives, I have slowly pieced together that rich ancestry in which I come from. My great-grandparents Jack Tommie and Sallie Chupco Tommie had 13 children. As mentioned in previous ACD columns, my mother definitely did her best to teach my twin and me about our Seminole heritage. To this day, she has Seminole jackets my twin and I wore as toddlers from the years we lived on the Brighton Reservation. When I was about six years old, I attended a pow wow in upstate New York with my elementary school. On another field trip, we went to a historic Native American village that had wigwams and sold arrowheads and moccasins. For the most part, that was the extent of my exposure to Native American culture.
Being employed by the Seminole Tribe of Florida and covering events such as Tribal Fair has expanded my perspective toward being Native. It has given me opportunities to connect with Natives from other places and learn more about our culture.
I spoke with some Natives at the Tribal Fair from the Morongo Band of Mission Indians in California. It was interesting to learn that their Tribe also has a casino and reservations with similar experiences to those taking place on our Seminole reservations.
I also assisted in filming an interview of Miss Indian World 2016-17 Danielle Ta’Sheena Finn at Tribal Fair. She was easy to talk to and very humble. Despite traveling the world and finishing law school, she still has strong ties to her Tribe, the Standing Rock Sioux, and seeks to continuously help her people. As Natives, we support the progression of our people and if one of us succeeds, we all do.
There is a strong kinship that binds us despite our geographical and physical differences. Our culture is what defines us. Our language and practices are what keep us going strong. We are a diverse group of people and often have vastly differing customs and beliefs with similar principles. In contrast to the limited views shown of us in entertainment, we come in all shades of color. Events such as Tribal Fair dispel those stereotypes of us and allow attendees to be taught who we truly are. Our traditional garments allow us to showcase our heritage with honor. I saw children in the audience in awe of the participants’ garments. Attendees lined up for Seminole food. They bought beads, hand-carved wooden figurines, and other Native items. Those were just some of the rewarding scenes I witnessed. Being a Native was cool. Our culture was admired and praised which is much different from how things were decades ago.
Aaron Tommie is a participant in the Tribe’s Advanced Career Development program. He is currently working for the Broadcasting Department in Seminole Media Productions.