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Ahfachkee culture class has delicious final exam

Carlise Bermudez makes pumpkin fry bread in the Ahfachkee cooking chickee Feb. 25. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

BIG CYPRESS — The Ahfachkee School’s culture department aims to pass along language (Elaponke), cultural knowledge and skills to keep Seminole traditions alive for generations to come. Students learn Elaponke from Monday through Thursday and how to cook traditional fare on Fridays.

Eight high school students completed a unit on pumpkin fry bread Feb. 25 and took a final exam over an open flame of the cooking chickee. Each student made the bread by themselves with no help from the teachers. After the bread was cooked and examined by teachers Danielle Jumper-Frye and Jeannette Cypress, the students enjoyed eating it.

“We had Wanda Billie come teach us how to make pumpkin bread,” said senior Carlise Bermudez. “Now we can make it ourselves. We can do everything we learn here…and at home.”

Maggie May Jimmie forms the dough for her final exam – pumpkin fry bread – in Ahfachkee culture camp’s cooking chickee. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

Students said the hardest thing about cooking in the chickee is keeping the oil at the perfect temperature. On the day of the final exam, the wind was blowing so Jumper-Frye moved the pot, added logs to the fire and put a couple of wind barriers against the cooking grate.

“Culture class is the best part of school,” said junior Kassim Stockton. “You learn stuff you’ll use. It has a bigger impact on you, it’s part of our heritage.”

The Friday cooking project empowers students with the ability to have that skill. Throughout the unit, they helped one another absorb the lessons. Jumper-Frye believes peer-to-peer learning is effective.

“Everyone has unique gifts and strengths,” she said. “When we have weaknesses, we should help one another.”

Pumpkin fry bread cooks over an open fire. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

As often as possible, culture classes are held in the school’s culture camp chickees. For language classes, students identify utensils and other objects in the camp. When they aren’t learning Elaponke in the chickee, they are engaged in the classroom where they learn to use the complex language.

“It’s good to be able to talk to the elders in Elaponke,” said student Marina Garcia.

Cypress and Jumper-Frye, director and assistant director of Ahfachkee’s traditional preservation program, encourage tribal members in the community to share their knowledge with the students.

From left, Akira Cabral, Maggie May Jimmie, Rosalinda Jimmie and Ronnie Jimmie gather around the fire as Rosalinda tends to her pumpkin bread. (Photo Beverly Bidney)
Siblings Maggie May Jimmie and Ronnie Jimmie compare their completed pumpkin breads. (Photo Beverly Bidney)
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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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