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Tribe, Fort King relationship strengthens with building of chickee

Tribal members built this chickee in September at Fort King National Historic Landmark in Ocala. The chickee will be used for educational purposes and other programs. (Photo courtesy Bill Rodriguez)

The Seminole Tribe built a large, 20 foot by 40 foot, chickee at the Fort King National Historic Landmark in Ocala on Sept. 15. The chickee was donated by the tribe and will be used for educational purposes and other historical programming events.

“We’ve been building our relationship with the park since 2015,” said Quenton Cypress, Heritage And Environmental Resources Office (HERO) community engagement manager. “We did weapons demonstrations and helped with their reenactments. They plan to build a museum and they want our faces to be the faces of the museum, not the reenactors who are currently there.”

Gil Yzaguirre, of the Immokalee Reservation, helps build a new chickee at the Fort King historic site Sept. 15, 2021 in Ocala. (WCJB)

Fort King is dedicated to the interpretation and preservation of the history of the Seminole Wars and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2004. It’s master plan includes building a 21,000 square foot, $14.7 million museum and educational center on the 42-acre site.

The fort was important to the U.S. Army during the first half of the 19th century because of its location in the center of the state adjacent to tribal land. Fort King sat at the edge of land designated for the Seminoles and land settlers wanted to possess, which made it fraught with tension; battles ensued as the boundary was redrawn. Ultimately, Chief Osceola and the Seminoles burned down the fort, which led to the second Seminole War.

“The tribe has been instrumental working with us in the way their story is told; it shouldn’t be our interpretation but their interpretation of their history,” said Bill Rodriguez, head of Ocala’s parks division. “We have a very strong relationship with the tribe. We are the first group to come to them before anything was actually done to get their input and participation in the project. It’s extremely important to have all parties involved in the telling of the story.”

The tribe and the city of Ocala created the master plan for the site together, down to the signage that tells the history. The location of the chickee was chosen for its prominence in clear view of the fort.

“We didn’t want it to be hidden,” Rodriguez said. “It has equal real estate value as the fort does in terms of its significance to the site. We wanted it to be front and center with the fort.”

The interior of the chickee. (Photo courtesy Bill Rodriguez)

Gil Yzaguirre and his team from Immokalee built the chickee, which was expected to require 5,000 to 6,000 palm fronds to cover its massive roof. After a weather delay of a few days, the chickee was completed Sept. 23.

Since its completion, Fort King’s Facebook page has filled with positive comments about the chickee. Pedro Zepeda commented that he loves the smell of a fresh roof. Other comments cite its beauty, size and that it is a great addition to the park.

In an interview with a Gainesville TV station Sept. 15, Cypress explained the different types of chickees, such as for sleeping, gathering, meeting, storage and cooking.

“A chickee was always a house for us,” Cypress explained. “We have chickees for our every aspect of life.”
Cypress said he was honored to be able to show visitors Native American culture.

The new chickee built and donated by the Seminole Tribe is close to the fort. (Photo courtesy Bill Rodriguez)
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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 beverlybidney@semtribe.com.
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