November may be Native American Heritage Month, but most Seminoles celebrated Indian Day in September.
“It’s Indian Day every day for us; today is just a day the government decided to recognize us and give us a holiday,” said Chairman Marcellus W. Osceola Jr. “It’s a chance for us to fellowship and a good reason for us to come together and show some of our talent peeling poles, throwing skillets, in foot races and canoe racing.”
The annual Congress of the American Indian Association proclaimed Indian Day in September 1915 and it was first recognized by a state, New York, in 1916. In 1990 President George W. Bush approved a resolution designating November to be National American Indian Heritage Month. Similar proclamations have been issued each year since 1994.
Today the Tribe uses Indian Day to bring traditional activities to life through competition and camaraderie.
“I came out here to enjoy the day and the competitions,” said President Mitchell Cypress. “Everybody challenges themselves to see what kind of a chickee builder they are. The longer you wait for the logs to dry, the harder it is to strip them.”
The crowd in Big Cypress filled the Junior Cypress Rodeo grounds Sept. 25, ready for a fun-filled day.
“Indian Day is a time to reflect, recognize and express who we are,” Geraldine Osceola said. “It lets everyone else, besides us, know that we are here.”
In BC, the main events were the clothing contest, pole sawing, skillet throwing, horseshoes, log peeling, hatchet throwing, archery and a mud run. BC Councilman Mondo Tiger enthusiastically cheered on the competitors.
“Indian Day means freedom to be who I am,” Councilman Tiger said. “I like to give many thanks to my ancestors. I celebrate because 10- and 12-year-old kids gave their lives so I can be here today. These kids never had a first kiss, a family or anything.”
For those not competing, the spirit of fellowship took hold as groups gathered under the shade of the chickees to talk, laugh and encourage their friends and family participating in the events.
“Everyone is so busy all the time, so it’s a good time to socialize with the community and get together,” said Alice Osceola, who worked with the departments to organize the BC festivities.
Immokalee commemorated Indian Day Sept. 27 with more fun and activities. Tribal members peeled logs, tacked fans and played horseshoes as they laughed and visited with one another. Despite the revelry, the significance of the day wasn’t lost on Council Project Manager Raymond Garza.
“It is a day we and our culture are recognized,” he said. “It’s a good day. As long as I’m alive, I’ll always participate in this. It’s a time for people to say we’re Indians and show their honor as Indian people. We are modern people but we still practice our culture and what we’ve been taught. We have to modernize because we live in today’s society.”
— Beverly Bidney
Seminole culture is richer than ever as generations continue learning and teaching traditional Seminole practices. To celebrate this culture on Indian Day, Hollywood residents spent two days taking part in recreational activities that tested their strength, speed, endurance and even their taste buds.
The festivities began Sept. 28 with a canoe race at a pond on the east side of U.S. 441, across from the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. About 50 participants, divided in teams of two, rowed their canoes in a lap around the pond. Some teams managed to navigate the course free of error, while others ended up overturning their canoes, but regardless, all participants seemed to enjoy the event.
Following the race was a community dinner at Seminole Estates and a language contest.
Starting bright and early Sept. 29, Hollywood residents came together again for a full day of fun. After a short walk at sunrise and a community breakfast, the bread-making competition began. Women were divided into two groups – seniors and youth – to create pumpkin bread and fry bread under the Culture Camp chickee. Despite the heat from cooking under the covering and being covered with flour and pumpkin mix, the competitors were all smiles.
Wanda Bowers and Juanita Osceola chatted and laughed throughout the process, sharing stories and helping the younger competitors get their mixtures right for the breads. Sherri Jumper showed her two-year-old granddaughter how to shape the dough and create child-sized breads.
As the breads fried, other tournaments commenced on the ball field.
Nine women competed in a palm frond nailing competition. Each woman had 30 fronds to hammer a nail into as quickly as possible. The competition highlighted the endurance needed to prepare roofs for the chickees, which require the palm leaves to be thatched together.
Meanwhile, men competed in the challenge course. Each competitor had to pick up a log and carry it around traffic cones and over obstacles to place it upon two tall pillars. Men competed for the fastest time to complete the course – some it took a few minutes and others it took under 30 seconds.
Throughout the remainder of the day, Tribal members participated in log peeling, a hatchet and skillet toss, horseshoe tournament, clothing contest, bingo and a cook-off, concluding with a community dinner in Hollywood’s outdoor gym.
— Li Cohen
Parts of Trail still showed wounds from Hurricane Irma as the community celebrated Indian Day on Sept. 30.
“The sun is shining; it could be worse,” said Norman Huggins, Trail’s council liaison.
Trail’s Indian Day celebrations are normally held at Huggins’ camp, but an abundance of water – thanks to Irma – forced the event to move to Diane Osceola’s camp at Munroe Station.
“We had to scale it down a little bit because we had to move it over here. We’re kind of flooded out at my place,” Huggins said.
The new venue still offered plenty of the activities that traditionally are found at Trail’s Indian Day, including clothing contests for youth and adults inside a giant white tent.
During a break in the contest, Huggins presented Trail’s Kailani Osceola – the 2017-18 Jr. Miss Florida Seminole – with gifts, including patchwork clothing and roses as the community recognized Kailani’s accomplishment.
Outside, youngsters occupied their time by scaling a mountain climbing wall, sliding down giant inflatables, enjoying snow cones on a sweltering day and simply running around the grounds. Arts and crafts vendors with plenty of patchwork clothing on racks occupied the center of the camp. Food was served throughout the day, which included gatherings for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
— Kevin Johnson
Brighton made the most of its Indian Day celebration by turning it into a week chock-full of events.
From the first horseshoe toss on day one at Fred Smith Rodeo Arena to the last kayaker out of the water at Tucker Ridge and everything in between, there was just about something for everyone during the five days of celebration and friendly competition that concluded Oct. 7.
Some events normally held outdoors – such as the cypress and thatch runs – were shifted into the rodeo arena because of wet ball fields. The 5K run/walk finished just in time before more wet weather arrived.
The clothing completion on the fourth day was a popular draw as dozens of participants showcased their patchwork in front of judges from Fire Rescue at the Brighton Recreation gymnasium.
After he finished competing in the cypress run on the first night, Norman “Skeeter” Bowers said he passed up a chance to go see his beloved Florida State football team host the University of Miami in order to organize the fishing tournament, which started a busy final day with canoe and kayak races and a tug of war all on the agenda at Tucker Ridge.
— Kevin Johnson
Paul Buster’s musical talents with voice and guitar provided a relaxing and peaceful ambiance to Fort Pierce’s Indian Day celebration Sept. 22 at Chupco’s Landing. Buster performed while seated on the front porch of the ranch office as residents and guests participated in corn hole toss, horseshoes, ax throwing, skillet tossing and archery.
Children cooled off on a hot day by playing on large inflatables filled with water.
Breakfast, featuring spam, bacon, sausage and eggs, and lunch, including Indian tacos, Indian hot dogs and Indian burgers, were served at the ranch. The community dinner, with a menu consisting of pork chops, baked chicken, fry bread, pumpkin bread, cabbage and corn beef and rice, was held at the community center.
— Kevin Johnson