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What do you think about your environment? The Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum wants to know

Early 20th century photograph of a man poling a canoe along a canoe trail leading from Tommy Osceola’s second camp. This photograph was taken before Everglades drainage was completed and before roads were constructed in the area. (Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum photo)

History is not only about people, it is also about the environment. The two are intertwined in many ways. We often don’t even notice or think about them at the time. Think back to when you were younger. Do you remember different animals, like birds, fish, or even insects? Do you remember different trees? Were there more of them, were they bigger? What about water? We see it every day. But has the quality or availability changed for you? Is it warmer, colder, wetter or drier than it used to be? These kinds of changes affect us, they become a part of history.

The museum’s collection includes information about the environment in a variety of surprising ways. Nineteenth century newspapers that reported news of the Seminole Wars boldly cite Florida’s environment as a military problem, as the ever-present water and dense vegetation kept Seminoles hidden and hindered the movement of U.S. troops (to view the information about this newspaper in our online collections, search for 1995.8.8). Handwritten letters from the 1800s also show that the U.S. Army saw the Everglades environment as a hostile enemy.

Seminole people used their environment to their advantage. Luckily for Seminoles, the U.S. Army did not!

In an 1838 letter, future U.S. President Zachary Taylor instructs Colonel Smith to make it a priority to detail how the Seminole enemies can be reached, either by land or water. (Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum photo)

Photographs show a different side to the landscape of South Florida. Some of the museum’s earliest photographs show historic water levels around camps. Canoes could move freely in the beautiful watery environment. However this became less and less possible as the 20th century moved forward. As land was drained and roads were constructed, cars replaced canoes and the Seminole way of life changed. For example, roadside tourist camps sprung up where Seminole families could make money off travelers passing by.

Today, the Florida environment is threatened by forces such as climate change and large scale water management practices. Let’s not forget what the environment means to us. The museum, the Tribal Historic Preservation Office and the Environmental Resources Management Department are working on several projects to protect the environment and to honor its history. Whether it’s an educational program with local schools, a plan for dealing with climate change, re-designing the galleries in the museum, or making sure the Seminole voice is heard on federal consultation levels, they all have one goal: to tell the Seminole story and to make the environment a big part of that story. Your knowledge and experience with the environment are essential.

If you’d like to work with us on any of these projects, let us know. If you want to record an oral history for future generations, we’re here to help. For more information on our projects and our collection, contact

Early 20th century aerial photograph of a Seminole camp on the Tamiami Trail where Bill Osceola grew up. This photograph appears to have been taken before many of the current water management projects were in place. (Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum photo)