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Seminole culture shines at Chalo Nitka

Siblings Kingston Jumper, 5, and Kanae Jumper, 8, ride their horses in the Chalo Nitka parade March 5, 2022, in Moore Haven. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

MOORE HAVEN – After two years of the pandemic, it was clear people were ready to get out and celebrate the 74th annual Chalo Nitka Festival in Moore Haven on March 5.

The festival began in 1948 as a celebration of the town’s newly paved main street. It has evolved into a celebration that includes Seminole culture and life near Lake Okeechobee.  

Chalo Nitka means “big bass” in the Seminole Creek language. The Brighton Reservation is a close neighbor of Moore Haven.

“This is a historical thing for us,” said Brighton Councilman Larry Howard. “We bring our culture and keep it going for the future generations. I look forward to this every year. We all needed it; we missed [Brighton] Field Day and [Seminole] Tribal Fair and Pow Wow.”

Those events were canceled earlier this year amid pandemic-related concerns. Positive Covid cases have since decreased in recent weeks paving the way for the tribe’s participation in events such as Chalo Nitka.

The tribe’s culture was prominently featured at the festival. Samples of freshly made pumpkin fry bread were given out at a cooking chickee. Tribal members sold traditional beaded jewelry and other arts and crafts. An alligator wrestling exhibition delighted spectators. A tribal clothing contest featured participants ranging from babies to elders in their most colorful finery.

“We came out last year, but there are a lot more people today,” said Melissa Gopher, who attended with her family.

Emcee John Madrigal interviews a group of 3-to-5-year-old girls during the clothing contest at the Chalo Nitka Festival March 5, 2022, in Moore Haven. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

Crowds lined the streets for the annual parade, which featured floats, elected officials, Chalo Nitka royalty, the Moore Haven Middle High School marching band and horses. Candy and beads thrown from passing floats were immediately retrieved by children.

Tribal members in the clothing contest donned their traditional clothing. Kids received help from adults, who made sure each component of the look was just right. The contest began with infants and babies, who clearly stole the hearts of spectators.

The Chalo Nitka events included a 5K run, bass fishing tournament, parade, festival and rodeo. The festival grounds were filled with rides, food trucks and vendors selling everything from jams to jerseys.

Councilman Howard said Brighton was eager to get back on track with a regular schedule of activities on the reservation, including Easter, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day celebrations.

“Every day isn’t promised to us; we have to keep our fingers crossed and do the right thing,” Councilman Howard said. “We pray to God the pandemic goes away, but it will probably stay with us like the flu. We have what we need to protect ourselves now, so there is light on the horizon.”


Brighton Councilman Larry Howard addresses spectators at the Chalo Nitka Festival grounds March 5, 2022, in Moore Haven. (Photo Beverly Bidney)
Makko Marcias, 3, stands out in theSeminole clothing contest for boys ages 3 to 5 at the Chalo Nitka Festival on March 5, 2022, in Moore Haven. (Photo Beverly BIdney)
Virginia Osceola helps customers choose jewelry at the Chalo Nitka Festival on March 5, 2022, in Moore Haven. (Photo Beverly Bidney)
Sandy Billie Jr. gives the crowd a show in his traditional garb and large hatchet during the Chalo Nitka parade on March 5, 2022, in Moore Haven. (Photo Beverly Bidney)
Rosalie Runkles, 1, makes it clear to her mother Nauthkee Henry that she would rather be somewhere other than the girls 0-to-2-year-old Seminole clothing contest at Chalo Nitka on March 5, 2022 in Moore Haven. (Photo Beverly Bidney)
Mini Miss Ailynn Raynee Tommie-Smith is surrounded by patchwork as she waves to the crowd during the Chalo Nitka parade March 5, 2022, in Moore Haven. (Photo Beverly Bidney)
Brighton Councilman Larry Howard throws candy to the crowd during the Chalo Nitka parade March 5, 2022, in Moore Haven. (Photo Beverly Bidney)
Chalo Nitka Tiny Miss Jhennie Baker, 3, and Chalo Nitka Mini Mister Jherricko Baker, 4, pose with their mother Jaryaca Baker on March 5, 2022, in Moore Haven. (Photo Beverly Bidney)
Clarissa Urbina adjusts her niece Kashyra Urbina’s clothing before the Seminole clothing contest at Chalo Nitka Festival on March 5, 2022, in Moore Haven. (Photo Beverly Bidney)
Balene Clay makes pumpkin fry bread in the Chalo Nitkla Festival’s cooking chickee as guests enjoy the samples March 5, 2022, in Moore Haven. (Photo Beverly Bidney)
From let, Jaydance Urbina, Jeremy Urbina and Malackai Garnane are pleased with the results of the clothing contest in the boys 13-17 age category at the Seminole clothing contest during the Chalo Nitka Festival on March 5, 2022, in Moore Haven. (Photo Beverly Bidney)
These girls, in the 13-to-17-year-old category, enjoy the completion of the Seminole clothing contest at the Chalo Nitka Festival on March 5, 2022, in Moore Haven. (Photo Beverly Bidney)
The Moore Haven Middle High School marching band plays its way down the parade route at Chalo Nitka on March 5, 2022, in Moore Haven. (Photo Beverly Bidney)
Siblings Iverson Huggins, Ellis Gopher, Eastyn Gopher and Ethan Gopher chase down candy at the Chalo Nitka parade March 5, 2022, in Moore Haven. (Photo Beverly Bidney)
Chalo Nitka’s royalty waves to spectators during the parade March 5, 2022, in Moore Haven. (Photo Beverly Bidney)
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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 beverlybidney@semtribe.com.
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