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Governor honors Seminole students during Native American Heritage Month

Big Cypress Councilwoman Mariann Billie, Brighton Councilman Larry Howard and Ahfachkee School and Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School students join Gov. Ron DeSantis for a reception at the governor’s mansion on Nov. 30 during Native American Heritage Month. (Governor’s office)

TALLAHASSEE — Students from Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School and the Ahfachkee School marked the culmination of Native American Heritage Month in Tallahassee with Gov. Ron DeSantis on Nov. 30.

Forty-two students along with teachers and school principals attended a reception at the governor’s mansion, where DeSantis announced the winners of the first statewide art and essay contests for Native American Heritage Month. The theme of the inaugural contests was “Celebrating the Achievements of Native American Floridians.”

In the spring of 2022, a group of PECS students realized that Native American Heritage Month was commemorated with no special activities in school, unlike Hispanic Heritage and Black History months which had art and writing contests. With the help of the tribe’s Heritage and Environment Resources Office (HERO), the students created a resolution to spread awareness “and increase the recognition of Indigenous people as well as the knowledge and acceptance of Indigenous people statewide.”

The students submitted it to Tribal Council, which passed it unanimously April 14. The students then sent the resolution to the governor, lieutenant governor and the Florida Department of Education. First Lady Casey DeSantis made the announcement in August that art and essay contests would take place during Native American Heritage Month in November, in partnership with the Seminole Tribe.

“Native Americans have lived on these lands for centuries and we have traditions that are rich in culture and values,” said Big Cypress Councilwoman Mariann Billie. “As Native peoples, we work tirelessly to establish nation to nation relationships that promote respect and dignity of Indigenous peoples. A special thanks to the eighth grade of Pemayetv; you know this day wouldn’t have happened without you all.”

Brighton Councilman Larry Howard told the students in the crowd that they would remember this day for the rest of their lives.

“Today I look at this as a monumental and historical day for Native Americans,” Councilman Howard said. “We didn’t have one individual, we had students and teachers that worked numerous hours putting this together. Thank you for not giving up and making sure you could get to the finish line.”

Councilman Howard read the names of teacher Amy Carr’s students whose idea it was to push for statewide recognition. The students, who attended the reception, are Brody Riley, Harmany Urbina, Joleyne Nunez, Ilya Trueblood, Hannah Platt, Timothy Urbina, Kiera Snell and Sally Osceola.

“We celebrate the contributions of Florida’s Native American tribes to our state’s unique culture,” DeSantis said. “The legacy of Native American tribes can be seen in every corner of the state.”

DeSantis presented awards for best essays to PECS fourth grader Dylanie Peak and fifth grader Hayden Nunez. He also presented PECS teachers Amy Carr and Jade Osceola with Excellence in Education awards for their excellence in teaching Native American history.

“Amy and Jade inspired their students to reach new heights,” DeSantis said. “When the Seminole Tribe reached out to us about this, we jumped at the opportunity. Part of it is to show appreciation for Native American culture and how it enriches the state, but also in appreciation for the great relationship we have been able to develop. We will continue to make this an annual event.”

PECS students wait to enter the governor’s mansion in Tallahassee on Nov. 30 for a reception honoring the winners of the first Native American Heritage Month art and essay contests, which students from the school initiated with the governor’s office. (Beverly Bidney)
PECS students and essay winners Hayden Nunez, left, and Dylanie Peak hold their winning certificates with Gov. Ron DeSantis. (Beverly Bidney)
Brighton Councilman Larry Howard addresses the audience at the governor’s mansion as First Lady Casey DeSantis, Gov. Ron DeSantis and Big Cypress Councilwoman Mariann Billie. (Beverly Bidney)
PECS teacher Jade Osceola is presented with an Excellence in Education award check by Gov. Ron DeSantis. (Beverly Bidney)
PECS teacher Amy Carr is presented with an Excellence in Education award check by Gov. Ron DeSantis. (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