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Halapata Chobee: big alligator!

Happy New Year! As I practice the annual beneficial cliché of reflecting on the year past, it has come to my attention that 2020 marks two years I’ve been working for the Seminole Tribe of Florida as the oral history coordinator at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum.

These past two years have flown by and it is an amazing feeling to be comfortably immersed in my job, loving my new Seminole community and family, and living the Florida beach lifestyle.

Although, one specific aspect of my new life in Florida really sticks out the most: I hang out with alligators!

Justin Giles and an alligator at the opening of the Billy L. Cypress Building in 2019. (Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum)

Driving to and from the Big Cypress Reservation every weekday morning and evening entails a quick visit to a bridge I’ve dubbed, “Alligator Bridge.”

Depending on the season, wet or dry, there are a few to as many as 10 ‘gators that seem to just love hanging out. Even while on the museum grounds at work there are ‘gators that come and visit us as well.

For a more controlled alligator environment, you can head down the road from the museum to Billy Swamp Safari and see some alligators hanging out too.

One thing is for sure, when you work or visit the Big Cypress Reservation, you will be hanging out with ‘gators. So be sure to be aware of your surroundings. The good thing is, if you don’t mess with the ‘gators, they won’t mess with you. Sage advice indeed for every human.

This New Year also brings more alligators to the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum with our new exhibit, “Alligator Wrestling: Danger. Entertainment. Tradition.”

I had the privilege of assisting with the curation of the exhibit by conducting and providing archival oral history interviews relating to the relationship of the Seminole people to the alligator.

Surely, a walk through the exhibit will provide an appreciation of these reptiles and their environment they share with us.

The Seminole alligator wrestlers that you will see and hear in the exhibit have opened up a small window into their role as cultural caretakers and entertainers, “walking in two worlds” type of stuff.

Certainly, that is the fun of this exhibit as we learn that the alligator is so much more than some ‘gators hanging out at “Alligator Bridge.”

The exhibit is showcased through Nov. 29, 2020, and I encourage a visit to experience more Seminole culture.

I am very thankful that my role with the oral history program at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum has provided me many friendships and experiences that consistently include our reptilian alligator friends.

Please be aware my human friends, come hang out with alligators on the Big Cypress Reservation and enjoy!