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Reservations mark Indian Day with full menu of events

Abby Tigertail, left, and Ahnie Jumper gain some speed in the canoe race during the Big Cypress Reservation’s Indian Day celebration Sept. 22. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

Camaraderie, contests and competition highlighted the Seminole Tribe’s Indian Day celebrations in September. The reservations welcomed a return to the traditional lineup of events and face-to-face opportunities which had been mostly absent the past two years due to the pandemic.


Although rainstorms flooded most of the Immokalee Culture Camp in the days before the Indian Day culture day and arts and crafts judging Sept. 20, the luncheon and judging were moved indoors to the gym. The women of the Culture Department dodged puddles in the cooking chickee as they cooked a traditional Seminole meal consisting of fry bread, Spam and tomatoes, spaghetti, fried chicken and chicken and rice.

The community showed up at the gym to judge the patchwork, beadwork, baskets and carvings.

Marissa Sanchez made the winning doll in the 18-36 year old category, Cheyenne McInturff made the winning basket in the 18-36 category, Lorraine Posada’s basket won in the 37-54 category and Immokalee Council Liaison Raymond Garza Sr.’s carving of a canoe won in the 55 and over category.

Big Cypress

There wasn’t a horse or steer to be seen at the Junior Cypress Rodeo Arena grounds Sept. 22. Instead tribal members competed in a plethora of traditional contests for the Big Cypress Indian Day celebration.

Men and women threw skillets, peeled logs, raced barefooted, threw hatchets and shot arrows to show off their skills.

“We never had Indian Day back in my days, we were Indians every day and never had a celebration,” said Virginia Tommie. “Now we have a big gathering with games and competitions.”

The community came out to enjoy the company and the celebration.

“It’s good to see adults and seniors do the Indian Day activities,” said Big Cypress Board Rep. Nadine Bowers. “We get to see everyone [and] talk and catch up for the first time since 2019. I missed it.”

“We are Indians every day, this is about being together,” said Big Cypress Councilwoman Mariann Billie. “The meaning of the day is to be proud of who you are. Never think you don’t know enough, we have our seniors to teach us. All Native Americans have been through a lot of hardship. It shows resiliency that we are still here. We pass that pride down to our kids.”


The Brighton community gathered at the Fred Smith Rodeo Arena and on the ballfields to celebrate Indian Day for the first time in two years. The weeklong event culminated Sept. 23 with traditional activities.

Brighton Councilman Larry Howard believes the most important part of Indian Day is being together and sharing stories about the past.

“We should just sit around and talk,” Councilman Howard said. “I remember when we had a flatbed trailer and held contests. The prizes back then were like sofkee and things like that. We want to keep those things remembered; the young kids won’t know about them unless their parents tell them.”

The competitions and activities all stem from how Seminoles lived in the Everglades. Men always gathered the poles for chickees, women got the fans (thatch) for the roofs. The archery and skillet throw contests all evoke the past.

“Back in the day, we didn’t have anything,” Rose Tiger said. “We lived in the Everglades, I don’t know how we got through that. This is good, I like to be able to see people I haven’t seen in a long time. We’re having a good time together.”

In July 2020, Marilyn Doney caught Covid-19, spent 18 days on a ventilator and two months in the hospital. Since then, she has been healing and getting stronger. So strong that she participated in the thatch run and proudly finished the race.

Onnie Osceola, an Elder, and Councilman Howard spent some time together talking about Seminole families throughout the generations.

“That’s where we come from,” Osceola said. “Here’s an Elder educating a youngin, she’s educating me,” said Councilman Howard, who recently celebrated his 51st birthday. “She has so much knowledge. That’s the big thing about Indian Day.”

Brighton’s Indian Day was held while Tropical Storm Ian was churning in the Caribbean south of Cuba. Hurricane Ian would hit Florida five days later. Osceola told a story about how to stop a storm from coming by planting an axe or knife in the ground with the sharpened blade facing the storm. According to the story, which was told to her when she was young and also told to Councilman Howard by former Chairman James E. Billie, the sharp blade will cause the storm to go to the left or right of it and save the village from harm.

“You have to believe it,” Osceola said. “Billy Bowlegs tried to turn a storm with a gun,” added Ada Pearce, who is related to Bowlegs. “I heard he shot the gun so people could run for safety.”

During the archery competition, a few chickens which were supposed to be part of the chicken chase event for young children, escaped their cage and were running nearby. Councilman Howard challenged everyone there to go after the fowl and he would reward those who caught one. Havoc ensued as the adults chased the chickens. All were finally caught, which gave Howard the idea for a new competition next year.

The day after all the reservations’ festivities ended, Chairman Marcellus W. Osceola Jr. reflected on the meaning of Indian Day while competing in a golf tournament.

“We’re Indians every day and every day we practice who we are,” said Chairman Osceola. “Our culture is strong so we never forget where we come from. It’s great to see everybody back in person. We lost a lot of time by being separated for our own safety.”


Hollywood’s Indian Day week was full of activities that ran Sept. 16-23. The busiest day was Sept. 22 with events from sunrise to sunset; starting with a 7 a.m. walk on the streets around the Howard Tiger Recreation Center and concluding with a 5 p.m. dinner at the airnasium. In between, participants competed in field events such as hatchet throwing, log peeling, skillet tossing, archery and horseshoes.

Other highlights during the week included contests in arts and crafts, bread, clothing and language. The Culture Camp hosted the bread contest and breakfasts. A canoe race was held on the pond across from the entrance to the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Hollywood.

The week ended with an evening of dinner, music and fireworks at the rodeo arena. Brothers Spencer Battiest and Doc Native along with The Osceola Brothers and Paul Buster were scheduled to perform.


It’s not every day that someone can go for a train ride, mountain climb and enjoy gourmet food in the Everglades. The Trail community Sept. 22 hosted all of those – and more – at its Indian Day, which was organized by Council Liaison Caryn Billie and office manager Mercy Perez.

Kids enjoyed taking a train ride from a vendor around Huggins Camp, which was full of activities, including a wall climbing set up, a giant water slide, a dunk tank, a photo booth, face-painting, and a human balloon maker. Food trucks provided gourmet sandwiches, pizza and ice cream.

A giant white tent was home to the clothing contest for youngsters and adults. The stage featured festive décor decked out with flowers and balloons in Seminole colors. The community also participated in contests, including bingo, skillet tossing and fry bread making.

Fort Pierce

Residents of the Fort Pierce Reservation celebrated Indian Day on Sept. 22. Fort Pierce Liaison Crystal Sneed and Fort Pierce council special assistant Kristy Smith set up an area just south of the Chupco’s Landing Community Center for tribal members to congregate and enjoy activities.

Activities included corn hole, horseshoes, archery, pan tossing, hatchet throwing and cooking by fire under a chickee. Families were also treated to lunch and lucky raffle ticket holders were given prizes throughout the day.

Staff reporter Damon Scott and senior editor Kevin Johnson contributed to this story.

After flipping a large log from one end to the other five times, Hollywood Councilman Chris Osceola carries it while sprinting to the finish line during the Seminole Challenge event at the Indian Day celebration Sept. 22 on the Hollywood Reservation. (Photo Kevin Johnson)
BIG CYPRESS: Marlin Miller-Covarrubias concentrates as she competes in the skillet toss. (Photo Beverly Bidney)
TRAIL: Birdie Osceola-Bartlett, left, and Justin Billie compete in front of judges in the clothing contest. (Photo Kevin Johnson)
BRIGHTON: Carla Gopher is about to round the cone in the thatch race on the Brighton ballfield. (Photo Beverly Bidney)
HOLLYWOOD: Six-foot-six Duelle Gore competes in archery. (Photo Kevin Johnson)
BRIGHTON: Arms loaded down with three heavy cypress logs, Layton Thomas makes his way through the cypress run. (Photo Beverly Bidney)
BIG CYPRESS: From left, President Mitchell Cypress, Brian Billie and Ronnie Billie enjoy Indian Day. (Photo Beverly Bidney)
BRIGHTON: From left are Johnnie Jones, John Madrigal, Sandy Billie Jr. and Norman Johns. (Photo Damon Scott)
FORT PIERCE: Kristy Smith, Fort Pierce council special assistant, holds up an Indian Day t-shirt with an image of the Council Oak Tree on the back. (Photo Damon Scott)
IMMOKALEE: From left, Amy Yzaguirre, America Martinez, Juanita Martinez and Susan Davis share a laugh as they make fry bread in the Immokalee Culture cooking chickee. (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