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Tribe celebrates Earth Day in Big Cypress, Hollywood

Ahfachkee School students Carlise Bermudez and Athena Osceola, far right, explain to visitors how to use a stalk of sugar cane to grow a new plant at the school’s culture garden display. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

BIG CYPRESS — The Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum held two comprehensive events to commemorate Earth Day; April 22 in Big Cypress and April 23 at Okalee Village in Hollywood.

Earth Day marked the start of the environmental movement when it began in 1970. The Seminole celebrations focused on the environment as well as the preservation of tribal culture.

“We need to celebrate this day,” said Gordon “Ollie” Wareham, director of the museum, as he opened the Big Cypress event. “This is who we are, we are connected to the earth.”

The events featured Seminole culture, traditions, food, activities, a recycled art contest, music, vendors and a poetry reading. Ahfachkee School students brought examples from the school’s culture garden to Earth Day to showcase sustainable agriculture, the importance of gardening and the resurgence of agriculture with the rise of inflation. The display included plants, repurposed items used as planters and plenty of information.

Students showed a variety of ways to expand a garden which include planting seeds from fruit grown in the garden, such as lemons, mulberries or tomatoes; using a cutting from the plant to grow new roots in water, such as aloe, ginger or wild onion; burying part of the vegetable directly in the ground where it will grow a new plant, such as sugar cane and potatoes.

“Stick it in the ground and in three months, you’ll have potatoes,” Ahfachkee senior Carlise Bermudez told a visitor.

As the planet’s climate changes, climate resiliency is an important topic. Jill Horwitz, Heritage and Environment Resources Office climate resiliency officer, took the opportunity to survey tribal members about climate resiliency strategies.

Tribal members were provided a list of strategies and asked to rate them in importance. The strategies were renewable energy and reliable power, protect habitat and traditional plants, food sovereignty and sustainable building standards.

“We want to get feedback from tribal members,” Horwitz said. “This is an action oriented survey that will help us with strategic planning. It’s an opportunity for community involvement, hearing people and giving tribal members a voice.”

The Tribal Historic Preservation Office set up an activity making traditional pinch pots out of clay, which attracted young visitors.

“I came to enjoy Earth Day and learn a little more about Indigenous culture,” said Londyn Slater, 10, of Pembroke Pines. “You don’t get to do this every day.”

The Big Cypress Council office gave out lemon plants and key lime plants for tribal members who wanted some citrus in their yards.

Alonso Apiaries, beekeepers from Clewiston and Miami, brought a display of live bees along with jars of honey. Bees are an important part of agricultural production and ecosystem function since they are avid pollinators.

Ahfachkee and Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School students created art out of recycled materials such as cardboard, magazines, paper, fabrics, plastic bottles and other rubbish. Creativity ran the gamut from dioramas to sculptures. The pieces were displayed at the museum and attendees were encouraged to vote for their favorites.

Aimee Osceola Jones votes for her favorite pieces of student-created art at the recycled art contest during Earth Day events April 22 at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum. (Photo Beverly Bidney)
Austin Billie and Almira Billie examine the display of live bees during the Earth Day event in Big Cypress. (Photo Beverly Bidney)
From left, HERO climate resiliency officer Jill Horwitz, Taylor Holata and Cody Motlow talk to Joni Josh about what issues she believes are most important for climate resiliency. (Photo Beverly Bidney)
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