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Miss Florida Seminole to build bond with Ainu people

HOLLYWOOD — Durante Blais-Billie hit the ground running after she was crowned Miss Florida Seminole July 27.

She’s already appeared at many Tribal events, programs, a symposium and the grand opening of the Guitar Hotel. She recently appeared at Florida State University’s Homecoming, too. That’s just a taste.

As part of her one-year reign, she intends to showcase Seminole culture, and educate people on its history and global impact. It means a lot of public speaking, advocacy work and appearances throughout Florida and at national events.

Blais-Billie also wants her work to help bring attention to education access for Indigenous youth and the importance of Indigenous knowledge systems.

It’s Indigenous knowledge systems that is motivating one of her most recent endeavors – a trip to Japan in November for a cultural exchange with the country’s Ainu people.

The Ainu and Okinawans are known as the only two remaining Indigenous Peoples on the island country.

The Ainu live on the northernmost islands of Japan and the Okinawans live on the southernmost islands.

The Japanese government puts the Ainu population at about 25,000, but unofficial numbers are closer to 200,000.

At the head of the table (from left to right) is LaVonne Rose, Tribal secretary and director of the Princess Program; Andrew Bowers, Tribal executive director of operations; Chuk Besher, executive producer of 3Minute Inc.; 3Minute producer Rusher Tsukamoto; and 3Minute production assistant Rina Taguchi. Tribal Secretary Supervisor of Elections, Naomi Wilson, is seated next to Miss Florida Seminole Durante Blais-Billie. (Photo Damon Scott)

The reason for the disparity is because many Ainu have been completely assimilated into Japanese society and as a result have little to no knowledge of their ancestry.

It’s with that backdrop that Blais-Billie will visit Rie Kayano, an Ainu who lives in Nibutani, Hokkaido.

Kayano is the granddaughter-in-law of a legendary modern Ainu leader – Shigeru Kayano. She is married to Kayano’s grandson and is a new mother. Kayano owns and operates an Ainu bed and breakfast and performs Ainu mythology through song and dance.

With Kayano, Blais-Billie hopes to visit a cultural center, see demonstrations of cultural practices, visit Indigenous land and speak with cultural leaders and Ainu community members. She has many other goals for the trip.

At a later date, Kayano will then travel to Florida to learn more about the Seminole Tribe. Blais-Billie will be her host on visits to many different sites around the reservations and South Florida.

In addition, a Tokyo-based media group – 3Minute Inc. – will produce a short documentary-style story about women empowerment that will feature both Blais-Billie and Kayano. Hard Rock International has contracted 3Minute on the project.

Some of the details of the cultural exchange and the documentary were hashed out at a meeting at Tribal Headquarters in Hollywood on Oct. 22.

At the meeting were Blais-Billie, Andrew Bowers, executive director of operations; Naomi Wilson, supervisor of elections; LaVonne Rose, Tribal secretary/Princess Program director and members of the 3Minute production team.

The documentary will be filmed at sites in Japan and at Seminole sites in South Florida.

The company has already done three such projects for Hard Rock International.

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Damon Scott
Damon is a multimedia journalist for the Seminole Tribune. He has previously been an editor and reporter for digital and print media in Florida and his home state of New Mexico. Send him an email at damonscott@semtribe.com.
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