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AIAC brings museum learning outdoors

Tribal medicine man Bobby Henry leads a serpentine line of students, teachers and Seminole Tribe members in a friendship stomp dance Nov. 6 at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki- Museum’s 18th annual  American Indian Arts Celebration.
Tribal medicine man Bobby Henry leads a serpentine line of students, teachers and Seminole Tribe members in a friendship stomp dance Nov. 6 at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki- Museum’s 18th annual American Indian Arts Celebration.

BIG CYPRESS — For nearly 700 students from cities and towns that surround the Big Cypress Reservation, hours at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum’s 18th annual American Indian Arts Celebration equaled one awesome out-of-classroom adventure.

“The culture, the alligators, the dancing, the crafts, the clothing – it was a really great and fun experience,” said Sarah Jagesser, 11, of Girl Scout Troop 20024 in Palm Beach Gardens.

Adult chaperones at the Nov. 6-7 event echoed Sarah’s sentiment.

“Best of all for the children was the friendship circle dance … they really loved the dancing,” said troop leader Laura Brihn.

But on opening day, before the dancing began, Tampa medicine man Bobby Henry taught briefly about a handful of traditions that survived generations – and he dispelled myths.

Seminoles did not use drums to keep the dance beat, he told the first morning group, and they used shakers instead. Some of the earliest jingle shakers that females concealed under dresses were fashioned from soda cans cut into small pieces, formed into conical shapes and then tied together and strapped to their legs.

“The leaders of the dance also used the rattle to make the rain,” Henry told the crowd.

He revealed to the children that he, like many Seminole children who were raised in the Everglades 50 years ago, was never formally educated.

“Then, some of the children were sad because they don’t go to school but our mothers said go in the woods with your bow and arrow, that is your school,” Henry said.

Big Cypress Board Rep. Joe Frank told dozens of Ahfachkee School students to welcome the other students. Ahfachkee children arrived throughout the day in classroom shifts and later on the heels of parents and grandparents.

“Make sure you kids say hello to the other kids. That’s how we show fellowship and make friends. We want people coming back to visit on a regular basis,” Rep. Frank said.

Shortly after, visitors abandoned bleacher seats and joined hands with Henry and other Tribal members in a serpentine line that circled and stomped through the stage area.

All the guest children toured the Museum to view permanent historic exhibits and the Museum’s temporary shows, such as “It’s Not a Costume – Modern Seminole Patchwork,” which tells the story about the traditional Seminole garb as evolving fashion.

JanCarlos Braulio, one of 116 second-grade students from Eastside Elementary School in Clewiston, said his favorite part of the visit was watching Tribal member Billy Walker do tricks with a 6-foot gator.

“The alligator kept trying to bite the man. It was pretty amazing,” JanCarlos said.

Walker taught the audience many alligator facts that included how to tell the difference between male and female alligators, how many babies can be born in one clutch and how mightily powerful the reptiles become in adulthood.

But most importantly, Walker told spectators that wrestling alligators for tourists evolved from days long gone when curious motorists would stop their cars along roadways on reservations to watch Seminole men wrangle the gators to their camps for food and hides for trading.

“When I was 6 or 7 years old I was already hunting alligator on the way to school. No one would barely ever see me in shoes. Hardly any cars were on the road but tourists would stop and give us money to take pictures,” Walker said.

Soon, he realized that tourists would pay more if he did tricks with the alligators – like kissing the alligator’s snout. Walker did his first official alligator show in 1988 at age 13.

Van Samuels, an Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum tour guide, led the event program as master of ceremonies. While introducing performances that included a hand-to-hand Seminole War fighting demonstration and traditional dances of the Cherokee Nation, Samuels weaved historical and cultural information about many Native American Tribes.

“It’s a very huge responsibility for Native Americans to pass down the culture and traditions. It’s also important for visitors to know we, like the Seminole Tribe, are a vibrant people,” Samuels said. “Some people might think Native Americans are part of the past, but here we are in 2015 and we are very much alive.”

 

 

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