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History comes to life at PECS culture days

BRIGHTON — For students at Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School (PECS), culture days are more like

Trace Wilcox pulls off the outer layer of the swamp cabbage stalk to get to the tender heart, which will be simmered over an open fire. Seventh and eighth graders spent all day May 23 immersed in traditional culture. (Beverly Bidney photo)

living history than studying it. By participating in the traditional Seminole camp, students couldn’t help but learn what their ancestors did on a daily basis just to survive.

Seventh- and eighth-graders stepped back in time May 23 as they prepared a communal meal, tried their hands at traditional games, listened to Seminole legends and practiced speaking Creek.

“The students are learning how their great grandparents used to get their meat and the hard work that goes into it,” said Lewis Gopher, a parent volunteer. “Even though we all have differences we come together for a common purpose, just like our ancestors used to do.”

A 200 pound hog was slaughtered, which the boys and girls butchered and prepared for the feast. They also cleaned and descaled fish and cut up swamp cabbage.

Those were the only activities the genders did together; after that their paths diverged into more traditional Seminole roles. Girls manned the cooking chickee, cooked lunch and prepared sofkee as boys carved wooden knives and did the heavy lifting around camp.

Girls roasted corn for sofkee in sand so it wouldn’t burn. Once roasted, they ground and crushed it into a fine meal and cooked up the beloved hot drink. They also made the fry bread, fried pork, pork rinds, pork and gravy, rice and green beans and then served it to the elders and the boys.

“Cooking is the most important job,” said Shyla Holata, 13. “Women make sure people are fed.”

As the students get older, they are given more to do during culture days. Grades 4 through 6 had their culture day May 22. Younger students typically use plastic knives to carve soap, make the fry bread but don’t get close to the fire for very long and don’t use sharp knives.

Shaela French and Haylie Huff finely grind corn, the traditional way, for sofkee at the PECS culture day. (Beverly Bidney photo)

“This is the first year I got to cut and cook the meat,” said Angelie Melton, 12. “It makes me feel more responsible.”

Three water turtles, roasted for three hours on hot coals, were added to the menu this year. A group gathered as the meat was retrieved from the shells. A bonus was the abundance of eggs inside, a delicacy shared by students and adults alike.

The day gave students a first-hand glimpse of history and had an impact on them.

“Learning about the past is hard, but we get to live the life of our ancestors,” said Kobe Jimmie, 14. “They had to go through hard times, but I think I could do it if I had to.”

“They had to do this every day,” added Daven Buck, 13. “I don’t know how they did it; modern life has taken ahold of me.”

Culture teachers spoke Creek throughout the day to enforce the language and the culture. The toddlers from the Immersion program attended and showed their fluency in the language as they conversed with their teachers.

After lunch, games took center stage. Boys threw tomahawks and honed their skills at archery while the girls tossed skillets and had fun rolling watermelons.

Thanks to all they learned, Leilani Burton, 12, and Ryanna Osceola, 14, were both confident they could live the primitive lifestyle of their ancestors if they had to.

“I want the kids to learn that this is where we came from,” said culture teacher Jewel Buck. “Before McDonalds, this is what we had to live on and were grateful for it. I want them to be grateful that we still have our culture and that one day they will learn the language as well.”

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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