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Successful Seminole dugout canoe launch for Pedro Zepeda

Pedro Zepeda uses a long pole to navigate his canoe on the Wekiva River in central Florida. (Beverly Bidney photo)

For perhaps the first time in more than 100 years, a Seminole dugout canoe was launched on the Wekiva River in central Florida.

The contrast between the traditional Seminole canoe and modern canoes and kayaks is on display at the Wekiva River, where Pedro Zepeda launched a dugout canoe. (Beverly Bidney photo)

Pedro Zepeda, who built the 16-foot craft from a Big Cypress log, was filmed March 12 in the Wekiwa Springs State Park in Apopka for a scene in the educational documentary “Suwannee Warrior.”

“A crowd gathered around,” Zepeda said. “Right behind us was the canoe launch. People on the boardwalk watched the filming and asked us questions before we put the boat in the water.”

With help from Shamy Tommie, Zepeda began work on the canoe at Okalee Village in Hollywood a few years ago. Since Okalee is now closed, it took Zepeda about a year to track down the canoe. He found it at the outdoor adventure area of Big Cypress and took it to the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum, where he plans to complete the final details on the canoe and put a finish on the wood to protect it from the elements.

Pedro Zepeda, center, launches a dugout canoe on the Wekiva River in central Florida March 12 as Daniel Tommie, at left, looks on. (Beverly Bidney photo)


“I wasn’t sure it would float,” Zepeda said. “It’s narrow, only about 21 inches wide. It had a little tippy feeling, but it didn’t sink.”

“Suwannee Warrior” will tell the story of Abraham, a black Seminole, who served as an interpreter for and fought alongside the Tribe during the Seminole Wars. Writer, producer and Broward College history professor Michael McGuigan and director Chris Kilayko are working on a trailer they will use for fundraising so they can complete the documentary.

The scene on the Wekiva River will be used in the trailer and possibly in the documentary as well.

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

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