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Water Warriors program showcases history, culture, concern

Jake Osceola guts a gar fish he caught the night before the Water Warriors program commemorating Earth Day at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum April 22, as reporters from Hello SWFL and visitors film the demonstration. (Beverly Bidney Photo)

BIG CYPRESS The Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum commemorated the 47th Earth Day with a Water Warriors program that focused on water issues. The Tribe’s connection to water and the Everglades took center stage at the Big Cypress event April 22.

“The Tribe’s relationship to water is amazing,” said Paul Backhouse, director of the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum and Tribal Historic Preservation Office. “They think about the environment differently than others. This event allows visitors to learn about that.”

The event was filled with activities, demonstrations and information thanks to Tribal members and departments who shared knowledge freely. Jake Osceola, who went fishing for garfish the night before, showed visitors how to cut through the tough skin of the fish and clean and cook the Seminole favorite while being filmed by a news crew from Fort Myers. When the fish was cooked, visitors were welcome to a sample.

Environmentalist and artist Samuel Tommie discussed the characteristics of water in the Everglades since the early 1800s.

“Things in the Everglades have been disturbed so much over time,” Tommie said. “It brings a lot of problems. Wildlife and birds aren’t as plentiful anymore and there is a real threat to our aquifer system.”

Tommie believes the biggest problem facing the Everglades is legislation and laws.

“The laws need to support the Everglades’ original design,” he said. “We need to go back 300 years. They have to change the laws to protect the Everglades and I challenge the government to do so.”

A lack of concern for the environment was the catalyst for Earth Day, which began in 1970, a time of leaded gasoline and unregulated industry that created pollution without legal consequences. “Air pollution was commonly accepted as the smell of prosperity. Environment was a word that appeared more often in spelling bees than on the evening news,” according to the Earth Day website.

It was no coincidence that the March for Science took place on Earth Day this year as demonstrations in more than 600 cities supported science for the public good.

The environment and science are continually paired for the work done by the Environmental Resource Management Department. During Water Warriors day, ERMD shared information about a new program it hopes to begin. The Environmental DNA program will measure DNA in the water to determine the absence or presence of invasive species such as pythons. The grant-funded program will require numerous collecting stations on canals throughout Big Cypress since water moves so quickly.

Southwest Florida native and fishing net maker Dennis McDaniel captivated visitors as he demonstrated how to make the nets by hands, one knot at a time. He learned the art form from his father when he was a child.

“I came to support the Seminole culture,” said visitor Ronnie Bower, of Naples. “Water is their life blood and the Everglades is drying up. People need to be aware; it’s a problem out here and everywhere.”

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Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at beverlybidney@semtribe.com.
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