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Traditions come to life at PECS

Fifth-grader Jaime Smith gets advice about turning frybread from Mollie Jolly during Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School culture days March 8. The students learned firsthand how to prepare and cook a traditional meal.
Fifth-grader Jaime Smith gets advice about turning frybread from Mollie Jolly during Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School culture days March 8. The students learned firsthand how to prepare and cook a traditional meal.

BRIGHTON — Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders traveled back in time March 8 as they spent the day living like their ancestors in a traditional Seminole village.

The school’s ninth annual culture days, March 7-9, featured tasks and activities for each student. Girls manned the cooking chickee and prepared a meal for more than 100 students, while boys honed carving skills and crafted wooden knifes.

Students learned to butcher chickens, played traditional games like skillet tossing for girls and tomahawk throwing for boys, and listened to Seminole legends. Teachers spoke primarily in Creek, making each activity a language lesson as well.

“We want the kids to learn this is how it used to be,” said Alice Sweat, culture education director, who grew up living in chickees in Brighton, Fort Pierce and Immokalee. “Some of them don’t have a clue how rough it was out there. It’s important that they know so if everything is done away with, they will be able to provide for themselves and their families.”

Culture language instructor Jade Osceola coached the girls at the cooking fire, teaching them how to use utensils and know when the food was done. The girls cut 10 heads of cabbage and cooked them with bacon.

“They learned to work together around the fire and cook a meal,” Osceola said. “It’s good to see how much they grow. In fourth grade they are hesitant with a knife, by sixth grade they are more comfortable and by eighth grade we can sit back and watch.”

Fourth-grader Keiyana Osceola, 10, had made frybread at school before, but she needed guidance from culture instructor Emma Fish, who told her not to knead the flour too much to prevent tough frybread.

“You just squish it and pat it a little bit,” Keiyana said.

As a child, Lewis Gopher attended Okeechobee South Elementary school. His fourth-grade teacher, Debbie Waldron, now teaches his fourth-grade daughter Winnie Gopher at PECS. Both adults said they recognize the differences between the two schools’ curriculums.

“Back then, the kids were saturated in the state’s expectations and didn’t get any background in Seminole history or culture,” said Waldron, a PECS teacher for three years. “Here our students are blessed with Seminole-specific history and are learning things their ancestors experienced.”

PECS students also learn U.S. and Florida history but Gopher said he appreciates the culture curriculum, Seminole history and modern governmental structure.

“It gives them a sense of pride at an early age,” said Gopher, who has three children at PECS. “They learn about the battles we won and that when we fight now, it is in a courtroom or an office setting. We still need to fight, but it’s a different battle now.”

Culture day volunteer Norman “Skeeter” Bowers said the smell of the cooking fire reminds him of home; a scent he does not take it for granted.

“My mother (Lorene Gopher) lived this way of life, so I was always around it,” he said. “It’s important to feed that part of them (the students) that is Seminole. Today, there are so many distractions and if the school didn’t have culture day, the kids wouldn’t be doing this. I hope they understand that and have a deeper appreciation for the things they do here.”

Cultural Ambassador Everett Osceola and Van Samuels captivated students with stories about Seminole legends. Samuels told the story of why the possum’s tail has no fur. According to the legend, the possum wanted rings on his tail like the raccoon, so he tied bark around his tail and put it over the fire. When he saw the tail was charred and burned, he cried.

“The possum was so ashamed and embarrassed, which is why today they have no fur on their tails and never come out during the day,” Samuels said. “The lesson is to be proud of who you are as individuals and don’t want things other people have. Be happy with what the Creator blessed you with.”

Although most students had participated in culture days since kindergarten, they still viewed it as an important event.

“I learned about the old ways of our culture and what they did for fun,” said sixth-grader LaShae King, 12.

“Learning the traditions makes me feel like I’m proud to be a Native,” added Angelie Melton, 11.



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