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Seminoles play big role in Chalo Nitka celebration

Mingo Jones and grandson Cisco Rodriguez lead the Chalo Nitka parade through the streets of Moore Haven on March 4. (Beverly Bidney photo)

MOORE HAVEN —  Although Moore Haven’s Chalo Nitka Festival began in 1948 to commemorate paving of Main Street, it has evolved into an annual celebration of small town life near the banks of Lake Okeechobee. What makes the festival unique is how the culture of the Seminole Tribe is intertwined into the festivities.

The March 4 parade, the centerpiece of the two-day festival, was led by Mingo Jones and grandsons Justin and Cisco Rodriguez in traditional Seminole garb on horseback. Moore Haven’s elected officials and Seminole and Chalo Nitka royalty followed, along with the Moore Haven Middle and High School marching band and other Glades County groups and businesses. A slew of horses and their riders brought up the rear.

Residents and Tribal citizens lined the parade route and kids gleefully gathered candy as quickly as it was thrown. Seminoles and non-Seminoles alike donned colorful patchwork as a tribute the Tribe. The entry fee into the fairgrounds was waived to all those wearing the traditional Seminole fashion.

“We don’t come to Chalo Nitka often, but this year we are competing in the clothing contest,” said Alice Billie, who was there with her children Tahniya, 9, Mohayla, 6, and Allekeao Billie, 3.

The festival grounds offered Seminole, local and carnival food as well as rides, plenty of shopping opportunities and entertainment. The Country Rhythm Cloggers opened the onstage entertainment, were followed by the clothing contest and alligator wrestling.

A conveniently placed chickee made an impromptu dressing room for clothing contest competitors. Families helped each other with their outfits. Toddlers and young children waited patiently as mom made sure all the important details were in the right place.

Chalo Nitka means big bass in Creek, so of course there was a fishing tournament Feb. 25 on Lake Okeechobee. Like a county fair, the event lasted the entire week and included a 5K run, royalty pageant, ranch rodeo and country and western dance.

Toddlers Jilayne Jamison, Kylynn Laurence and Mila Leah show off their finest Seminole garb at the Chalo Nitka clothing contest in Moore Haven. (Beverly Bidney photo)
Youth compete in the Chalo Nitka clothing contest and wait on stage as the judges make their choices. (Beverly Bidney photo)
Krysta Burton, Thomlynn Billie and Talia Rodriguez pose for a photo during the clothing contest at Chalo Nitka. (Beverly Bidney photo)

Mila Leah, 16 months, waits as patiently as a toddler can for the Chalo Nitka clothing contest to begin. (Beverly Bidney photo)
Nearly ready to go onstage for the clothing contest, Chance Madrigal, 5, waits for his turban in a nearby chickee.(Beverly Bidney photo)
Seminole royalty ride in style at the Chalo Nitka parade through Moore Haven March 4. Jr. Miss Florida Seminole Thomlynn Bille and Miss Florida Seminole Kirsten Doney wave to the crowd.(Beverly Bidney photo)
Sisters by birth and royalty Jr. Miss Brighton Leilani Burton and Miss Brighton Krysta Burton wave to the crowd as they ride in the Chalo Nitka parade March 4. (Beverly Bidney photo)
Mingo Jones with his grandson Justin Rodriguez represent the Tribe as they lead the Chalo Nitka parade. (Beverly Bidney photo)


EIRA Jr. Rodeo Queen Madisyn Osceola and Rodeo Queen Allegra Billie wave to parade spectators on the streets of Moore Haven during the Chalo Nitka parade March 4. (Beverly Bidney photo)
Betty Billie and her grandson Myron Billie ride their decorated ATV in the Chalo Nitka parade in Moore Haven. (Beverly Bidney photo)


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