MOORE HAVEN — Although Moore Haven’s Chalo Nitka Festival began in 1948 to commemorate paving of Main Street, it has evolved into an annual celebration of small town life near the banks of Lake Okeechobee. What makes the festival unique is how the culture of the Seminole Tribe is intertwined into the festivities.
The March 4 parade, the centerpiece of the two-day festival, was led by Mingo Jones and grandsons Justin and Cisco Rodriguez in traditional Seminole garb on horseback. Moore Haven’s elected officials and Seminole and Chalo Nitka royalty followed, along with the Moore Haven Middle and High School marching band and other Glades County groups and businesses. A slew of horses and their riders brought up the rear.
Residents and Tribal citizens lined the parade route and kids gleefully gathered candy as quickly as it was thrown. Seminoles and non-Seminoles alike donned colorful patchwork as a tribute the Tribe. The entry fee into the fairgrounds was waived to all those wearing the traditional Seminole fashion.
“We don’t come to Chalo Nitka often, but this year we are competing in the clothing contest,” said Alice Billie, who was there with her children Tahniya, 9, Mohayla, 6, and Allekeao Billie, 3.
The festival grounds offered Seminole, local and carnival food as well as rides, plenty of shopping opportunities and entertainment. The Country Rhythm Cloggers opened the onstage entertainment, were followed by the clothing contest and alligator wrestling.
A conveniently placed chickee made an impromptu dressing room for clothing contest competitors. Families helped each other with their outfits. Toddlers and young children waited patiently as mom made sure all the important details were in the right place.
Chalo Nitka means big bass in Creek, so of course there was a fishing tournament Feb. 25 on Lake Okeechobee. Like a county fair, the event lasted the entire week and included a 5K run, royalty pageant, ranch rodeo and country and western dance.