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Agriculture commissioner receives glimpse of Brighton life

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, Brighton Councilman Andrew J. Bowers Jr. and Brighton Board Rep. Larry Howard look at the exhibits on display at the Brighton Administrative building April 24 during a visit to the reservation. (Beverly Bidney photo)

BRIGHTON — Florida Agricultural Commissioner Adam Putnam, a fifth generation Florida cattle rancher and citrus grower, visited the Brighton Reservation for the first time April 24 and was impressed by what he learned.

“Too many people define the Tribe by their relationship with gaming,” Putnam said. “For me it’s defined by their connection to the land. I enjoyed digging deeper and understanding the social and cultural activities on the reservation.”

Accompanied by Brighton Councilman Andrew J. Bowers Jr., Board Rep. Larry Howard, Natural Resource director Alex Johns, council special events coordinator Lewis Gopher and Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School administrative assistant Michele Thomas, Putnam learned about Seminole culture while taking in the highlights of the reservation. The visit’s goal was to show Putnam how the Tribe uses its gaming revenue.

“We have invited other government officials to Brighton and, as far as I know, he is the first to take the time to come out here and see what we’re doing,” Councilman Bowers said. “This is a good day for us.”

The visit began at a conference table where the discussion centered on culture, home and business. Rep. Howard presented the commissioner with a pen made from a Brighton sugar cane stalk. Putnam is a strong supporter of Fresh from Florida, through which Seminole Beef is promoted.

“I love the agricultural side of what you do,” Putnam said. “I’m proud of your agricultural success and what it has brought to the state.”

A tour of exhibits and photos on display at the Brighton administrative building served as a primer on Seminole history, culture and cattle.

“One thing that has remained consistent is the cattle business,” Bowers said. “The cattle program started in the 1920s and the reservation was founded in 1936. Cows helped drive this reservation.”

The group boarded the seniors’ bus, where Gopher served as a tour guide extraordinaire. He explained the services offered to Tribal members at each location at which they stopped, including the senior center, veterans building, community culture, preschool, medical center, Boys & Girls Club, library, tutoring trailer, public safety building, center for behavioral health, the gym and ball fields, rodeo arena, 4H and the Red Barn.

“This is an ideal place to live,” Gopher said. “Everything you need is right here.”

The next stop on the tour was the charter school.

“Since we are a public charter school, we’re able to get teachers from the outside,” Gopher said. “And it counts toward their retirement years.”

Putnam learned that PECS began in 2007 as a kindergarten through grade 5 school with 124 students and is now pre-kindergarten through grade 8 with 311 students. Most students attend Okeechobee or Moore Haven high school after they leave PECS.

“This school is everything our ancestors worked for,” Johns said.

Principal Brian Greseth led the tour through the school’s culture and regular classrooms as well as the language immersion program for babies and toddlers. Putnam was so fascinated with the Creek language classroom that he took a photo of the week’s spelling words and posted it on his Facebook page.

A visit to the culture camp and garden led to a discussion about clans and the matriarchal nature of the Tribe. As they finished the tour, Gopher mentioned the relationship between the school’s programs and gaming revenue.

“It gives us more consistency,” he said. “Big decisions made at the top filter back to the students.”

Putnam asked about the Tribal students’ graduation rate, which Greseth said is above other area schools.

“Native Americans in general have the lowest graduation rate of all students,” Greseth said. “Our kids are at 73 percent, Okeechobee High is 70 percent. We’re happy with that, but of course we want to be at 100 percent.”

Putnam, whose name has been mentioned as a potential Republican candidate for governor in 2018, was impressed by all the services the Tribe provides to its citizens.

“I’m particularly impressed with the immersion program that allows students to grow up with a foot in each world,” he said. “It will make certain that we don’t lose a vitally important part of Florida history and tradition. The history of the Tribe is the history of Florida and we want it to remain a vibrant part of the culture.”

Putnam sees the Tribe’s relationship with the state continuing to advance in the future.

“I’m extremely proud of the newest business venture, Seminole Pride Beef, and want to continue that 500-year history of affiliation with the cattle industry,” he said.

After Putnam left the reservation, the group convened again around the conference table. The consensus was that Putnam is interested in a relationship with the Tribe, and not only through gaming.

“I think it is an eye-opener for anyone from the outside to see the school and all the facilities we have,” said Johns, who has known Putnam for years through his work in the Florida Cattlemen’s Association. “If everything goes well for him for governor, I think he will run for president; that’s the caliber of guy that he is.”

“He saw what our government does for our people,” Rep. Howard said. “It speaks volumes that he wanted to come see it.”

 

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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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