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WEP at THPO brings Robbins home again

Tucomah Robbins poses in the THPO office where he is stationed several days a week for training in the Tribe’s Work Experience Program.
Tucomah Robbins poses in the THPO office where he is stationed several days a week for training in the Tribe’s Work Experience Program.

BIG CYPRESS — For two semesters Tribal citizen Tucomah Robbins studied hard and earned good grades at Florida State University, but the 21-year-old with childhood ties to Big Cypress Reservation knew something was missing.

“I just needed at that time to know more about my culture. I felt like I didn’t know enough about who am and I had to learn the language, the history, everything,” he said.

Robbins soon returned to the reservation that he first called home and since January 2016 has been enthusiastically working at the Tribal Historic Preservation Office under the Tribe’s Work Experience Program.

“It’s a practical approach to where I want to be while I learn the language, history and culture. It all brings me back here,” Robbins said Feb. 17 during a break at the THPO office.

The program, based out of the Education Department, is a two-year opportunity for Tribal citizens to experience on-site job training, professional awareness and eventual integration into careers that serve Tribe departments for the future.

Robbins is interested in the compliance and legal side of THPO operations. For now, he is primarily listening in and observing the Tribe’s compliance team as they investigate and provide oversight on happenings that can or do compromise Native American cultural and historic sites.

The most recent issue revolved around Florida House Bill 803 and its companion Senate Bill 1054 that threatened to allow ordinary citizens to find and collect artifacts from Native American sites and sacred places. The practice was dubbed “citizen archaeology.”

On the day of Robbins’ interview with The Seminole Tribune, the THPO compliance team and Director Paul Backhouse were busily culling documents to fight the bills. Eventually, the bills both died in the legislative session.

“This is education at work,” Robbins said.

Allyssa Boge, the education director for Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum and THPO, said WEP participants get exposure to everything at both locations. Experience comes from helping out with all inter-department jobs from building interpretive exhibits in the Museum to collecting plugs of soil at construction sites for sensitive material analysis.

“They get to see then how all the departments in THPO and the Museum work together,” Boge said.

Robbins, a 2012 American Heritage School graduate, said he learned about the program from friend Quenton Cypress, who graduated from Ahfachkee School in 2014 and is now in his second year as a WEP participant at Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum.

Cypress called WEP an “eye-opening” and “door-opening” experience. He already boasts job offers from the Tribe’s Gaming and Human Resources departments.

“The learning is enormous. I’ve done graphic design, exhibit set ups, land surveying and mapping. I had a chance to work with education and children’s programs. There is so much,” Cypress said. “WEP is about seeing what you like the best and then being able to do what you want to do later.”

But for both men, earning college degrees is surely in the forecast. Both intend to earn bachelor’s degrees at the very least.

“We (the Tribe) didn’t get to this point without working for it. Today, that means we need college degrees, too,” said Cypress, who hopes to be elected Big Cypress Councilman someday.

Robbins said he is aiming for the top. He hopes to be Chairman.

“To be part of a Tribe is to be selfless. I don’t do this for me; I do it for the Tribe,” Robbins said.