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Indian Day writers contest inspires tribal members

Ahfachkee School students who participated in the Indian Day writing contest attend the awards ceremony at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum Oct. 20. (Beverly Bidney)

BIG CYPRESS — Challenged with putting their thoughts about Indian Day on paper, 75 Seminole tribal members submitted essays for the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum’s writers contest in September.

Ahfachkee students from kindergarten through high school and adults sent their essays to the museum. On Oct. 20, an awards ceremony was held at the museum to celebrate and congratulate the first, second and third place winners in all age groups.

“We didn’t know if anyone would enter and we had 75 entries, so shonabish,” said Big Cypress Councilwoman Mariann Billie. “It takes a lot for us to write. I didn’t like writing so much in school, so I’m glad you all participated.”

Councilwoman Billie recognized every winner and presented them with certificates. The first place winners in each category- kindergarten, first to third grade, fourth and fifth grade, middle school, high school and adult- read their winning essays to a crowd of other writers and family members.

Chelsey Motlow, first place winner of the fourth and fifth grade category, read from her essay.

“What Indian Day means to you, probably won’t be the same as what it means to me. Indian Day to me isn’t just an excuse to not go to school, it’s a day to honor our culture and heritage. This is a day to honor our people. The people who die for us to live. Without them we wouldn’t be where we are as people today. This isn’t just a holiday, it’s a reminder, a reminder that we are still here and thriving and that they couldn’t wipe us out,” she read.

“I want to encourage you to keep speaking in front of people,” Jumper said. “One day you will grow up and be our leaders and you will talk in front of a lot of people.”

Jumper then read from her essay, in which she recalled her grandmother.

“Her smell, her voice, her laughter and her essence lace my existence in love and a definitive spirit that has never left me. She lingers on my identity just like the smoke from the campfire that perfumed her clothing and beckoned to me to come sit by her side,” she read.

Elgin Jumper and Krystal Bowers from the Seminole Writers Group served as judges for the contest.

“It was very hard to pick a winner, but it was great to read everyone’s essays,” Bowers said. “I encourage everyone here to keep writing, it will help you no matter what you do in life.”

Elgin Jumper was glad to see the amount of interest in writing within the tribe.

“The future of Seminole writing is in talented hands,” he said.

Councilwoman Billie told the students they are the future of the tribe and gave them some advice.

“Be proud of who you are, where you come from and don’t be afraid to ask questions,” she said. “Just remember, for us every day is Indian Day.”

Big Cypress Councilwoman Mariann Billie and museum educator Van Samuels listen as adult category winner Andrea Jumper addresses the students before reading her essay. (Photo Beverly Bidney)
Big Cypress Councilwoman Mariann Billie, left, and museum educator Van Samuels, in back, watch as Chelsey Motlow reads from her winning essay. (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