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Crowds come out for 22nd annual American Indian Arts Celebration

BIG CYPRESS — Nearly 2,000 visitors enjoyed the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum’s American Indian Arts Celebration in Big Cypress Nov. 1 and 2, the second highest attendance in its 22-year history.

More than 600 students from about 13 schools in central, southwest and south Florida filled the museum grounds during the celebration’s first day.

Art and culture aficionados from around the state took in the display of Native American art, crafts, jewelry, music, dancing and food.

A dancer from the Deer family dances in the main tent Nov. 1 at the American Indian Arts Celebration on the grounds of the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

Shoppers were aplenty as they perused booths of patchwork, beadwork, basketry, painting and carving.

“It was our second highest attendance on record,” said Carrie Dilley, Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki visitor services and development manager. “It was awesome and such a great event.”

For the first time, AIAC hosted a frybread contest. Seven contestants were judged by 40 visitors who purchased tickets to taste the frybread and choose the best one.

The winner was the only man to enter, Jason Melton. Proceeds from the tickets will be added to the capital campaign for the museum’s exhibit redesign project, “Telling Our Stories.”

Jr. Miss Florida Seminole Lena Stubbs and Miss Florida Seminole Durante Blais-Billie talk to visitors at the AIAC in Big Cypress. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

A fashion show featuring the high fashion designs of Lenora Roberts was another new event this year. AIAC’s entertainment headliner was the comedy troupe the 1491s, who played one show each day.

“They were hilarious,” Dilley said. “People stayed until the very end to see their show.”

In the demonstration tent, attendees got an inside look at how some of the art is created and students decorated paper feathers.

A few Tribal members explained their artwork, carving techniques and even what it meant to be Native American royalty.

Billy Walker shows the inside of the alligator’s mouth to the crowd in the AIAC show tent. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

The bleachers in the main tent remained full as Miss Indian World Cheyenne Kippenberger, Miss Florida Seminole Durante Blais-Billie and Jr. Miss Indian World Lena Stubbs explained the role Native American royalty plays in tribes around the U.S. Kippenberger even taught the crowd two words in Elaponke; che-hun-tamo (hello) and shonabish (thank you).

Gator wrestler Billy Walker needed some help carrying a seven foot gator out of its holding box, but handled the creature with ease as he showed off his 30 years of skills and warned the eager crowd not to try it at home.

The Leading Fox and Deer family pow wow dancers followed with a more interactive show than Walker’s.

Anthony Gentry, James Mora and Chandler Demayo carry a seven foot long alligator out of the tent at AIAC after a performance by Billy Walker, Gentry’s uncle. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

After the two families demonstrated a variety of dances, everyone in the audience joined in and danced in a large circle together.

Jim Downey, of Naples, and Mike Stafford, of Manchester, England, enjoyed the activities and shopping to their hearts content.

“He really wanted to experience something Native American while he is here,” said Downey about his friend. “It’s my first time here and I really like the nice atmosphere.”

Daniel Tommie explains how he carved a canoe to a group of students from the Cornerstone Christian Academy in Avon Park in the demonstration tent at the AIAC. (Photo Beverly Bidney)
This young boy demonstrates the chicken dance as a crowd watches at the AIAC. (Photo Beverly Bidney)
Bobby Henry talks to a student from the Sagemont School in Weston as he sells her an item from his booth at the AIAC. (Photo Beverly Bidney)
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