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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”