LAKE BUENA VISTA — Dignitaries and other invited guests gathered at the American Adventure pavilion at Walt Disney World’s Epcot theme park for the dedication of a new exhibition July 27.
“Creating Tradition: Innovation and Change in American Indian Art” was officially opened at the American Heritage Gallery with a ceremony that involved members of the Seminole and Miccosukee tribes.
The new exhibit is designed to give visitors a glimpse of American Indian culture and history through artifacts and contemporary pieces.
“If you read the history of great Indian nations of North America, one thing becomes clear: great accomplishments are usually the result of many hands working together. And that is certainly the case with our new gallery,” said Melissa Valiquette, Epcot vice president, in opening remarks.
The exhibit features 89 pieces representing 40 different American Indian tribes, including the Seminole Tribe, from seven geographic regions across the U.S. During the next five years, it will feature new artifacts and refreshed displays, incorporating pieces from more of the 573 American Indian tribes recognized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
“America’s tribes are extraordinarily diverse, yet they share common beliefs. One of those beliefs is the importance of harmony – harmony among people, harmony with nature and harmony between the physical and spiritual world. No one knows this better than Seminole representative Mr. Bobby Henry,” Valiquette said as she brought Henry to the stage.
Henry gave a blessing and led several Seminoles and Miccosukees in a traditional “Stomp Dance.”
Others giving remarks included Della Warrior, director of the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture in Santa Fe, New Mexico; and Veronica Gonzales, secretary of Cultural Affairs for the state of New Mexico. Kevin Gover, the director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian also spoke. The three were all collaborators of the exhibit, as was Dr. Paul Backhouse, director of the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum and Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the Tribe.
The Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum in Big Cypress was contacted about nine months ago by Epcot officials who wanted the organization to be a part of the unique exhibit.
“We had some staff that knew one of their curators from past jobs and they reached out and wanted to see if we’d be interested in loaning objects,” Kate Macuen, assistant director at Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki, said.
Macuen has been at the museum for almost three years and previously spent six years in the Tribal Historical Preservation Office.
Macuen said after going through certain criteria like display and security requirements, the museum was able to give Epcot six initial items – mostly textiles, sashes, shirts and purses.
Since the exhibit is ongoing for the next five years, she said items will rotate out probably every seven to eight months, meaning the public can expect to see more work from the Seminole Tribe over time.
“The Seminoles are really known for a variety of art forms – bead work, basket makers, patch work and sewing, wood carving … and then you have more contemporary artists doing all types of work – graphic designers, painters, poets … ,” Macuen said.
Everything Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki loaned to Epcot was from the museum’s collection, including a bandolier bag by Brian Zepeda, Naples Council liaison.
The exhibit is expected to mix modern pieces with historic ones.
This is the second exhibit Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki has done outside the walls of the museum in Big Cypress. And it’s the first time the museum has worked with Epcot, even though the Tribe has a relationship with Disney as a whole, said Macuen.
The other exhibit was revealed at the recent opening of the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City. The museum worked with the Hard Rock’s memorabilia department to be part of a temporary exhibit there, although Macuen said officials are looking to build a permanent exhibition space for Seminole objects.
Macuen said while loaning objects to exhibits outside of the walls of the museum is a nontraditional route for Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki, she thinks it’s a positive development.
“The impact we hope to have is by sharing the Tribe’s culture and history with millions and millions of people that might not even know about the Tribe,” she said. “We can help with misconceptions people might have. Even people in Florida don’t always know about the Tribe. We are able to present the correct history and the true culture.”