Part of what I enjoy about this job is the opportunities I get to work with the Seminole community. As the curator of exhibits, my role in the Museum is to tell the Seminole story through the exhibits. As someone who in not affiliated with any tribe, that means talking with a lot of Tribal members about how they see the world and how Seminole culture and history works. Sure, I can read a bunch of books, and usually I do quite a bit of research. But I have long since learned that those books have been written mostly by white men and are, at best, a second-hand account of things. Why rely solely on them when I can hear about history, culture, and art of the Seminoles from the Seminole people.
In the museums I have worked at previously, there has been a lot of talk about working for the community or working for ‘the people’. But invariably those jobs never took me or my co-workers into the community. A lot of other employees in other museums find this is true as well. But it has not been true here. In the four years of working here, my co-workers and I have been invited to Seminole events, community meetings, cattle meetings, into the schools, onto community members’ properties, and even, sometimes, into homes. We have broken bread together, listened to stories, shared memories, and, in my case, helped to make better exhibits in the Museum.
Recently I have been out in the community learning about the cattle industry. About a year ago, we were asked to provide a large-scale photo of cattle in the Brighton Administration building. Along with Beverly Bidney, Tribune reporter/photographer, Siobhan Millar, exhibits coordinator, and Eric Griffis, oral historian, we were escorted to meet the keeping heifers, so Beverly could get some close ups of these young female cows. Alex Johns had Reno Osceola and Erin Jones familiarize us with the Brighton cattlekeepers and their way of doing things. Later Alex sat down to give us a great interview about cattle and the Seminoles. We used Alex’s interview in the mobile cattle cart display we travel to events around the reservations.
Next, Quenton Cypress and I took the Cattle Cart display to a Cattle and Range meeting on Big Cypress. While we coordinated with several Big Cypress cattlemen and cattlewomen, when developing the cattle cart project, this was my first time attending a meeting. Going out in the field and listening in on meetings like this helps me understand, more than all the reading I do, what really matters to the Seminole cattlemen and cattlewomen. Hopefully it shows up in the exhibits.
I won’t say I have always gotten it right in creating these exhibits, but Tribal members have always been willing to tell us how we can do it better. While criticism is never easy to take it is better than hearing nothing at all. It means the Seminole community cares enough for us to get it right.
Our next exciting project involves working with different departments to learn what they do. We hope to inform the Tribal community of new and different things occurring in the government, while teaching non-Seminole visitors about how Seminole Tribal sovereignty works. If you want to learn more about this upcoming exhibit or have an idea for it, call Rebecca Fell, curator of exhibits, at 863-902-1113 x12251 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was written on behalf of the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum.