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Our primary source: Marlin Billie

By: Mary Beth Rosebrough and Tara Backhouse – Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum

One day this past May we had what turned out to be a very special visitor to the library, Marlin Billie.

Marlin had heard about our mission to get photos identified for the benefit of the entire Tribe. With over 150,000 photos, the task is daunting.

Marlin accepted the challenge and by now has identified people and events in well over 1,000 photos donated to the museum by The Seminole Tribune in 2015.

In fact, Marlin worked at the Tribune in the 1980s as a photographer, graphic designer, and journalist.

Volunteer Marlin Billie looks through some of our late 20th century photographs during a recent visit to the museum. He’ll be able to identify many of the people, places and dates in this binder which will help us provide more images back to the community. (Photo Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum)

In addition, the newest volunteer to be part of our team here in Collections has officially loaned us hundreds of negatives of images taken around the reservations.

We will digitize them and provide him with copies. This is one of several ways we can serve the community.

The museum also accepts donations of pertinent items if people want to give them to us permanently.

We preserve them using best museum practices. Staff has all been trained in the proper ways to manage and store precious photographs, books, correspondence, media, and objects for longevity and safety.

Our goal is to protect Seminole heritage and culture. Marlin has gifted the museum with nearly 200 photographs, as well as stickball sticks and other carved wooden items all made by his late father, the exceptional woodcarver Henry John Billie.

In this photo donated to the museum by Marlin Billie, the Seminole Color Guard participates in the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s inauguration in 2007. Stephen Bowers holds the American flag and Paul Bowers holds the Tribal flag. Moses Jumper Jr., Max Osceola, Roger Smith, Cicero Osceola and Joe Frank can be seen onstage in the background. (Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum)

In fact, Henry John appears in the museum’s introductory movie. He is carving a canoe.

Not only was Marlin preceded by his father in helping the museum but also by his son, Darryl Billie.

Darryl worked with the museum in 2014 as an Ahfachkee intern and he also identified people in photos from our collection.

We have many binders filled with photos from the 1930s to the early 2000s that are stored on the front library shelves and can be viewed anytime Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Three generations of the Henry John Billie family have devoted time to the preservation of Seminole tradition and history. Each one an individual, yet united in purpose.

Marlin’s love of documenting history through photography also found expression in other creative avenues.

For example he sat down with our exhibits team to discuss plans for upcoming exhibits and the museum redesign, scheduled to begin in the spring of 2021.

They spoke about life in a camp, tourist attractions and alligator wrestling – all topics Marlin is familiar with, remembering what it was like pre-Hard Rock.

The museum, along with Seminole Media Productions, is also collaborating with Marlin on the production of a volume of photobooks that can be given away at community events.

This will be a great way to give something back to the community that’s helping with the photo identification process.

Marlin Billie hard at work at the Tribune offices circa 1985. This image was found by Marlin while identifying photos donated to the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum by The Seminole Tribune. (Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum)

Additionally, we’ll all be working with the Big Cypress Council office to produce a special newspaper edition.

Some of you may remember that 20 years ago the Tribune issued “A Day in the Life of Big Cypress: A Commemorative Issue of the Seminole Tribune.”

Look for an updated 20th anniversary version in winter 2019/2020.

We plan to make Big Cypress proud of our efforts, and see where it goes from there.

We hope that efforts like these can extend throughout all Seminole communities in the future.

Come see us if you want to be part of our mission.

We’re here for you and want what we do to matter to everyone in the Seminole community.

We can be reached at 863-902-1113, five days a week, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.