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Naples community celebrates Earth Day

NAPLES — The Seminole Tribe’s Naples community joined about 1 billion other people in 192 countries worldwide April 22 to celebrate Earth Day.

To mark the day, the community planted three cypress trees next to the Juanita Osceola Center and celebrated Seminole heritage with a gar fish demonstration, pumpkin fry bread and storytelling. Even before the trees were planted, birds perched on its branches indicating the trees will be a welcome addition to the ecosystem.

“We take a lot of trees out of the woods for chickees; it’s important to plant trees, too,” said Billy Walker as the trees were being set in the ground. “The birds represent everything to us; they see what God sees and know who did what during each season. The breath maker gave us this Earth; we have a connection to Mother Earth and nature so it’s good for us to plant more trees.”

The Naples community celebrates Earth Day and watches as Liaison Brian Zepeda helps plant three cypress trees on the property at the Juanita Osceola Center on April 22. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

The theme of the day centered on preserving the Earth and a few avid gardeners shared tips about the vegetables and plants in their gardens. Sweet potatoes will take over the garden if the plant isn’t contained in a barrel. After Romaine lettuce is trimmed for salad greens, if the roots are left in the ground another head of lettuce will grow.

“Earth Day is about saving the Earth for our children,” said Chairman Marcellus W. Osceola Jr. “We see all the pictures of sea life and animals in the wilderness eating plastic; we need to take care of the environment so it will take care of us. Planting trees is a symbol of that.”

President Mitchell Cypress pondered the state of the planet, including rising seas and melting glaciers, and the urgency to save it.

The Naples community poses for an Earth Day photo in front of two of the three newly planted cypress trees. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

“Our rain forests are being destroyed and they are the filter for us to breathe,” he said. “This is a wakeup call and I hope it isn’t too late. Native Americans say if you take care of the Earth, it will take care of you. If you destroy it, it will destroy you.”

Tribal members, children and the community gathered around Walker as he demonstrated how to clean and roast gar fish. He caught about 14 fish over two nights. He said the fat ones are his personal favorites.

“Gar fish was like fast food for Seminoles,” Walker said. “They will be cooked in only 45 minutes. We used to use citrus from the trees brought here from China and put it on top of the fish as it cooked.”

Billy Walker helps his daughter Shylah Walker learn to cut open and clean a gar fish at the Naples Earth Day celebration. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

Although Walker used popsicle sticks to keep the fish open on the grill, in the old days sticks from trees were used. Jessica Osceola cleaned a few fish, as did Walker’s daughter Shylah, 10.

As the traditional Seminole fare roasted on the fire, a chef was busy cooking an elaborate lunch of rice, vegetables, chicken and beef on a hibachi table nearby.

“We always try to do something different in Naples,” said Naples Liaison Brian Zepeda. “It’s our first Earth Day and we wanted an event where the community could come out and enjoy the day together.”

JoJo Frank Jr. tosses a beanbag as Raymond Mora waits his turn during a game of corn hole at the celebration. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

After lunch, guest speaker Krystle Young spoke about her work to restore the Everglades and the environment. Young recently earned her Master of Science in Biology from the University of Miami and is pursuing a PhD in Biology at Florida International University in Miami.

She has been monitoring water in Miami Dade and Monroe County canals, looking for levels of phosphorus, nitrogen and other pollutants that feed algae. Young has also studied the diversity of the water in Miami Dade’s Biscayne Bay.

The difference between the water of Card Sound in the upper Keys by Key Largo and Black Point in Biscayne National Park across the bay from Elliott Key is profound. The largely untouched Card Sound has significantly more biodiversity because of the minimal human contact. Black Point’s marina and park are popular with boaters and others.

“It’s important to have high diversity, it’s an indicator of the health of an ecosystem,” Young said. “Everything is connected; water, animals and plants. You can’t interact with one without affecting something else.”

Jonah Walker gives Leland Billie a close-up view of the toothy snout of a gar fish at the Earth Day celebration. Jonah’s father, Billy Walker, caught about 14 fish and demonstrated how to prepare and roast them over an open flame. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

Young urged people to consider biodiversity in their own gardens and yards. She said grass is bad for diversity, trees and bushes support more species. She also outlined an important action everyone can take to improve the environment; reduce, reuse and recycle.

“Reduce usage of one time use items, repurpose things and recycle,” Young said. “Composting at home will give you soil you can grow things in. We all love our natural resources; do what you can to protect the Earth.”

Founded in 1970, Earth Day is credited with launching the environmental movement, which led Congress to pass the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act and other environmental laws.

“Science is important and we need to support it,” Young said. “We need to get Tribal members involved more. Earth Day is all about educating people on the importance of preserving our natural resources.

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

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