BIG CYPRESS — Quenton Cypress already has an extensive resume for someone 25-years-old. And there are no signs that he’s slowing down.
To start, the Big Cypress resident has worked for the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum in various capacities for almost a decade.
He started at age 16 when he enrolled in the Tribe’s Summer Work Experience Program (SWEP) – designed for those who are still in high school. He continued to work for the museum after graduation through the Work Experience Program (WEP), a branch of Tribal Professional Development (TPD), which generally consists of those who are just out of high school and figuring out the next steps of their education and career.
Cypress has also organized trips to Egmont Key – helping to educate Tribal members, on its Seminole history and the environmental challenges it faces today.
He’s long been a part of the Osceola Warrior Legacy that participates in historical reenactments, including at Fort King in northeast Ocala. Cypress was also consulted on a recently approved Fort King master plan, too – one that includes the development and construction of a museum and education center.
He said he does his best to learn from the tribe’s elders. He previously organized a trip to the Orlando Museum of Art so a group of elders could see a collection of Seminole patchwork on display.
“This was patchwork some of the elders had made themselves in the early 1980s,” Cypress said.
There’s much more.
Cypress is currently the community engagement manager for the tribe’s Heritage and Environment Resources Office (HERO) and he works with the tribe-owned business – Seminole Heritage Services – that brings an Indigenous perspective to the environmental and cultural review of various projects.
His experience has also placed him in a unique view regarding the tribe’s work in climate resiliency, which includes Everglades restoration and projects that involve the Army Corps of Engineers, like the Western Everglades Restoration Project (WERP).
The Corps has plans for a variety of water-related construction projects along Lake Okeechobee that have an effect on Seminole land and the Everglades to the south.
“They keep saying the Everglades is a big filter and think they can send their dirty water south,” Cypress said. “They think it’s going to clean it up.”
Cypress thinks much of the reason water is often diverted south instead of through east and west tributaries is because many of the east-west communities consist of wealthy Florida constituents and tourists.
However not all ‘restoration’ is bad, he said.
“But mistakes are repeated and then a Band-Aid is slapped on it and they do something to compensate,” Cypress said. “There are no putting things back to how it was. Restoration means how it was. All we can hope for now is Everglades preservation.”
Cypress said because Florida is now checker-boarded with manmade canals, there’s no way to ever return the Everglades to its natural state. Big Cypress, for example, used to be wetter. He’s heard from elders who built homes on stilts and used to walk in knee-high water to get to school.
“Big Cypress is named Big Cypress because there used to be big cypress trees, some as big as [California] redwoods,” he said.
Cypress said the trees stopped getting the amount of water that was needed due to the draining of the Everglades and increased logging operations.
“[The Everglades are] like a crumpled up piece of paper. You can’t take that paper back to what it looked like, but you can at least flatten it out,” he said.
Meanwhile, Cypress has political aspirations. He said he’s going to run for Tribal Council in April 2021 to represent Big Cypress.
“It’s been a long time in the making,” Cypress said. “I’ve learned so much about how the tribe operates by attending council briefings.”
He said he’s been encouraged to run for council by friends and family.
“My whole thing is community,” he said.
Cypress is married to Maria Cypress. The couple has one daughter, Willow.