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PECS, Muckleshoot Tribe share culture

Culture Exchange10BRIGHTON — Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School students recently had the unique experience of seeing their own culture through the eyes of another Tribe, the Muckleshoot of Washington state.

On Nov. 12, before attending the American Indian Science and Engineering Society conference in Orlando, 12 Muckleshoot high school students and their chaperones visited Brighton Reservation.

After viewing the Red Barn, Florida Seminole Veterans Building and Lake Okeechobee, the Muckleshoot students joined in at the school’s culture camp. Together with PECS students, they cooked Indian dogs and carved soap while sharing stories about life and legends of their Tribes.

“We carve Sasquatch and you carve alligators,” said Kenny Louie, 17. “We do beadwork, make drums from deer hide, and carve paddles from cedar and Douglas fir.”

Boys from both Tribes compared the types of birds and trees on their reservations and discussed hunting. The conversation eventually moved to alligators, and the Muckleshoot boys found it hard to believe the Seminole kids actually wrestled them.

Chickee building was another topic the local kids shared with visitors.

“If you have a team of four or five people, you can get it done in a few days,” said Conner Thomas, 13.

Helped by culture staff, Seminole and Muckleshoot girls kneaded frybread dough before wrapping it around hot dogs. The Muckleshoot girls had never before cooked over an open fire.

“I think it’s really cool that we are using actual firewood instead of a stove,” said Karrena Heredia, 17. “I think I’ll show my mom this way to make frybread, with self-rising flour.”

Although they don’t traditionally cook Indian dogs outside, the Muckleshoots enjoy the same treat at home and call them rez dogs.

“We hope they learn about our culture,” said Emma Johns, PECS dean of students who organized the visit. “We’ve been to their reservation; now it’s an opportunity for them to see our Tribe.”

The physical environments of the two Tribes vary drastically: rolling hills and salmon-filled rivers in Washington versus flat Florida scrub land and alligator-infested canals.

The Muckleshoot students were eager to see an alligator in the wild, so a bus trip was organized to find the reptiles in their natural habitat. They only saw two, an adult who quickly scurried from the bank into a tributary leading to Lake Okeechobee and a young gator in the shallows of the lake behind the Brighton Trading Post.

Johns met Willard Bill Jr., Muckleshoot Tribal School dean of students, through her work with the National Indian Education Association when she served as director of the Education Department. Bill invited Tribal youth to join the Muckleshoot on a canoe journey in 2010.

The department brought 14 students to Washington that summer, and the group spent a week on a canoe journey with Muckleshoot youth learning about Northwestern Tribal customs.

This time, the Muckleshoots learned about Seminole culture.

“We want to broaden their horizons so they can see what other reservations look like, how they are different and how they are alike,” Bill said. “Firsthand cultural activities is what we really want them to take away from the visit.”

The two Tribes emphasize teaching native language to preserve it for future generations, creating traditional arts and crafts, taking care of the environment and participating in philanthropic endeavors in surrounding communities.

The Seminole’s relationship with the Muckleshoot Tribe began in the 1980s when the Tribe, located about 30 miles south of Seattle, wanted to open a bingo hall. They couldn’t get a bank loan, so the Seminole Tribe stepped in and loaned them money to get started.

“Now we are a multibillion dollar corporation and one of the largest employers in the area,” Bill said.

Today the Muckleshoot Tribe’s enterprises include the Muckleshoot Casino, Muckleshoot Bingo, Muckleshoot Seafood Products, the Muckleshoot Market and Deli, the Salish Tree Farm, the White River Amphitheatre, the Salish Lodge and Emerald Downs. Education is a top priority for the Tribe and revenue from their businesses fund the school and the Muckleshoot Tribal College.

Johns was pleased with the outcome of the short visit.

“Anytime we get Native American students from across the country together, it’s a real blessing,” she said.


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