BIG CYPRESS — Two busses filled with 75 members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians made the trip from North Carolina to the Big Cypress Reservation for a cultural exchange May 21. Some Cherokees learned they had more in common with the Seminole Tribe than they realized.
The cultural exchange began at Billie Swamp Safari where the group went on airboats and swamp buggies and watched Billy Walker wrestle an alligator. Before Walker began the show, he shared some of the Tribe’s history dating back to the Seminole Wars. When he mentioned Andrew Jackson, the Cherokees booed enthusiastically.
As the United States’ seventh president, Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act of 1830 into law, which led to the Trail of Tears forcing thousands of Native Americans to march west to Oklahoma. About 800 Cherokees remained in the mountains and avoided being relocated. Some of today’s 14,000 Eastern Band of Cherokee members are descendants of those who remained.
The same Act provoked the Seminole Wars in which the U.S. Army forced all but a couple hundred Seminoles to Oklahoma. Those that didn’t go west fought the wars in the 1800s. Most of today’s Seminole Tribal members are descendants of those unconquered warriors.
The Cherokees live in the mountains near Great Smokey Mountain National Park and they were excited to visit the Everglades. As with the Seminole seniors, this group chose where they wanted to take a trip and they picked the Seminole and Miccosukee Tribes.
After the morning’s adventure, the group traveled to the Herman Osceola Gym for a luncheon and a chance to meet more than 80 seniors from Big Cypress, Brighton, Hollywood, Immokalee, Tampa and Trail. The seniors got to know each other during lunch.
Janice Osceola ran into a friend and NAYO softball teammate she hadn’t seen in 30 years or more. She and Virginia Johnson had a lot to catch up on and seemed to pick up just where they left off, with warm smiles and conversation.
President Mitchell Cypress, Big Cypress Board Rep. Joe Frank and Big Cypress Councilman Mondo Tiger welcomed the group to the reservation and thanked the culture department for sharing their skills. Tables were set up on one side of the room with demonstrations of basketry, patchwork, beadwork, doll making and carvings for the Cherokee to peruse.
After lunch, some of the Cherokee admired the arts and crafts and asked questions. The Cherokees took their time at the different tables as they learned about each craft.
Linda Beletso showed the sweetgrass to a group and told them how to find and gather it for baskets. One man remarked on how smooth and round the grass is. Lorraine Posada explained how palmetto fiber is used for the base of baskets.
The arts and crafts of the two tribes are very different, but similarities can be found in their values.
“Our spiritual and cultural things are very much alike and that’s a good thing,” said Cherokee member Suzanne Hornbuckle. “The people here honor their elders, just like we do.”
“We learned about certain superstitions and we have the same ones,” said Valorie Welch.
The BC senior center gathered more than 100 handmade items to give as gifts through raffles. The items included patchwork skirts, shirts, handbags and vests, beadwork items such as visors and beaded jewelry, sweetgrass baskets, dolls and carved tomahawks.
The 75 Cherokees were given tickets, and with more than 100 gifts, about a third of them went home with more than one bag of Seminole swag. Two Hard Rock guitar gifts including a dinner at Council Oak or Kuro were also raffled.
The manager of the Cherokee senior program Deb West thanked the Tribe for their generosity and presented a few gifts of their own including white oak baskets and a Pendleton blanket designed by a Cherokee tribal member.
After lunch, which included traditional fry bread and pumpkin bread, the Cherokees loaded the busses and headed to Hollywood to spend the night. The following day they headed south to visit the Miccosukee Tribe in Trail.
“It’s my first time here,” Naomi McCoy said. “We just want to see how other Tribes live, where they are from and the different terrain. To me that’s interesting.”