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Big Cypress hosts ceremony to mark Memorial Day

The last stop on the walk was at the memorial wall. (Damon Scott)

BIG CYPRESS – Big Cypress Health and Human Services Department staff organized a ceremony May 25 to mark Memorial Day for the Seminole Tribe. About 30 tribal members, tribal employees, and others met at the Seminole Veterans Memorial Fitness Trail for a walk that included six stops along the way to honor those who served in the military and in other capacities.

“I’m glad you all are here. We wanted to do the remembrance walk and also the prayer walk, which we haven’t done in awhile in this community,” Edna McDuffie, the Big Cypress health outreach coordinator, said. Big Cypress health educator Jamie Diersing then led the group in some fun warm-up exercises.

The stops were designated to recognize first responders, churches and spiritual wellbeing, communities, tribal and national leaders and youth. The final stop at the trail’s memorial wall was to honor military veterans.

Pastor Arlen Payne, of the Big Cypress New Testament Baptist Church; Pastor Salaw Hummingbird, of Big Cypress First Baptist Church; and Van Samuels, an Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum educator, led the group in prayers.

“I appreciate you all coming this morning and want to encourage you that as we walk and as we pray that we do with a heart of gratitude and gratefulness,” Payne said.

At the communities stop, Hummingbird said that everyone “plays a vital part” in community health.

“It’s each and every one of us. One thing that’s for sure is that whenever we come together as a community, there is that one love that bonds us all together, that we do care for one another,” Hummingbird said. “That’s what’s so important about these prayer walks and us gathering up together.”

A handful of military veterans were on hand, including Paul Bowers Sr., who served as a corporal in the U.S. Marine Corps; President Mitchell Cypress, who is a U.S. Army veteran; and U.S. Army veteran Paul Downing (Passamaquoddy Tribe of Indian Township), who is the Emergency Management director for the tribe, among others. Some, like Sunny Frank, participated to recognize family members who served. Frank was there to pay tribute to his father, Joel Frank Sr., who served in the U.S. Marine Corps.

The last stop was at the site’s memorial wall, which includes the engraved names of Seminole military veterans who have died.

“Today is the day we honor some of the troops that went overseas and never made it back. That is the reason why we have freedom,” President Cypress said.

President Cypress recognized Bowers Sr. and said he was a hero.

Payne recalled that the first funeral he did on the Big Cypress Reservation was at the memorial wall.

“I knew a lot of these guys,” he said with tears in his eyes. “I’m thankful for them. They volunteered to go and serve their country. We must remember what Memorial Day is all about.”

Memorial Day is observed each year on the last Monday in May.

Tribal members, tribal employees, and others met at the Seminole Veterans Memorial Fitness Trail on May 25. (Damon Scott)
President Mitchell Cypress spoke briefly at the memorial wall. (Damon Scott)
The walk was organized to recognize those who served in the military and in other capacities. (Damon Scott)
From left to right are Paul Bowers Sr., Big Cypress Board Rep. Nadine Bowers, Paul Downing, Salaw Hummingbird and President Mitchell Cypress. (Damon Scott)
Damon Scott
Damon is a multimedia journalist for the Seminole Tribune. He has previously been an editor and reporter for digital and print media in Florida and his home state of New Mexico. Send him an email at