BRIGHTON — Nearly 4,000 attendees enjoyed the 82nd annual Brighton Field Day Festival Feb. 14-16.
The visitors, who came from all over North America, were entertained by Native American dance, crafts and culture as well as concerts, competitive alligator wrestling and a professional rodeo.
The event had something for everyone, including a peek into Seminole culture at the traditional camp where samples of fry bread were available.
Tribal and other Native vendors did a brisk business selling patchwork, beadwork, jewelry, arts and crafts and other traditional items.
Tribal members mingled with visitors as they partook in Native and other cuisine. Norman “Skeeter” Bowers took the opportunity to educate a few guests with a brief history of the Tribe and the field day event.
“This used to be just a gathering to bring Tribal members together,” Bowers said. “It had humble beginnings with sack races and pie eating contests. A lot of people don’t know it, but this is the oldest Native American event in the U.S. What distinguishes the Seminole Tribe from other tribes is we are the only ones who never signed a peace treaty.”
The field day festival began in 1938 as a friendly competition between reservations and evolved into the popular fun-filled event it is today.
Each day began with a grand entry parade featuring the Seminole and Lakota Women Warriors color guards, Seminole royalty, Tribal officials and Native American dancers.
Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School second graders opened the amphitheater show Feb. 14 with the Pledge of Allegiance in both Creek and English.
“This is the 82nd year of this festival,” said Miss Florida Seminole Durante Blais-Billie. “It is the longest running Indian festival.”
Jr. Miss Florida Seminole Aubee Billie used her considerable charm to energize the crowd as she welcomed them to Brighton.
“This is my own reservation and I want you all to have fun here,” she said.
After teaching the crowd to say hello in Creek and Elaponke, Miss Indian World Cheyenne Kippenberger also welcomed the crowd.
“This event is very special to our community,” she said. “We have vendors from all over to show you authentic items from Indian Country.”
Brighton Councilman Larry Howard wanted the guests to leave with a greater understanding of Seminole culture and history.
“I want them to enjoy themselves and bring home some trinkets from our culture,” he said. “A little bit goes a long way. I take pride of the fact that people come from all over for this festival.”
The amphitheater and grounds were loaded with folks eager to experience something different.
The traditional Seminole weapons demonstration, Aztec fire dancers, White Mountain Apache crown dancers, snake show and the freestyle alligator wrestling competition kept the stands filled and the crowd engaged.
The competitors in the alligator wrestling were judged by four judges, who awarded up to 25 points each for their technique in wrangling, showmanship, technical skills, danger of stunts and aggressiveness of the alligator.
Each contestant had six minutes with the animal to impress the judges.
To assure as much safety of the participants as possible – accidents do happen and some people have fewer than 10 fingers – a group of wranglers were ready at a moment’s notice to step in if necessary.
They were the rodeo clowns of the alligator wrestling world.
Judge Clinton Holt, who suffered a mishap a few years ago when an alligator chomped down on his head, learned a lesson from that accident.
He made sure to have an auto-lift pump that can open a gator’s jaw with 3,000 pounds of pressure. A typical alligator bites with about 2,000 pounds of pressure.
“I’m fascinated with alligators,” said Shari Lariviere, from Manitoba, Canada. “We don’t have them up there. This is amazing; I’m so happy to be here and will come back every day.”
Roy Garland came from central Pennsylvania with a group of friends for the festival.
“There is a lot of shopping and food,” said Garland, who studied Native American life in college. “I’m really enjoying it and am excited to see everything.”
A group of friends from Stuart couldn’t agree on the best part of the day.
“We’re having a great time,” said Tom Ryan. “I found out I could still crack a whip.”
“I like the clothing and the jewelry,” said Mary Ann Browne. “It’s fascinating.”
Mara Eisenberg and Louise Mott, from Lake Worth, spent a good amount of time shopping and showed off their finds to each other. But they also enjoyed the alligator wresting and dancers.
“Being a nurse, it worried me how hot the Apache dancers were,” said Mott.
“We are having so much fun shopping,” added Eisenberg. “It’s a lot more fun than the Palm Beach County Fair. We also learned about the cattle and the cracker horses. I love the patchwork, but I can’t believe the prices.”
The stands in the Fred Smith Rodeo Arena were chock full of fans who came to see the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association (PRCA) rodeo.
Before the event began, horses, calves, steers, cowboys and cowgirls filled the pens and the backstage area.
“I like the freedom of the rodeo,” said bareback rider Michael McCamman, of Greenville, in the Panhandle, who has been riding rodeo for five years. “I can go anywhere anytime, depending on where the rodeo is.”
The emcee welcomed everyone to the rodeo with a brief history lesson.
“Here’s to 83 years of doing it in the dirt,” he said. “This is the greatest show on dirt.”
Later in the evening, the Shannon Reed Band entertained the crowd in the fan zone and Meko & Pewo entertained in the amphitheater.