As we approach winter in Florida, we are fortunate that we aren’t having to ready our pipes for freezing temperatures or buying salt to spread over our driveways. Winter is an amazingly exciting time in Florida. People are leaving the security of their air conditioned bunkers to begin enjoying whatever the outside has to offer. This is the time of year that I love inviting people out to the Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation. Visiting the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum gives visitors the opportunity to enjoy more than a mile of boardwalk that twists and turns through a cypress dome hammock, as well as curated exhibits that teach you about the culture and lives of my people, the Seminoles.
I am so proud to walk through the museum exhibits because I actually feel like they tell the story of who we really are. The exhibit hall features five different galleries that range from a look into life as it was in the 1890’s, to more contemporary exhibits that feature the art made by students at the Ahfachkee School. A fun exhibit, Alligator Wrestling: Danger–Entertainment–Tradition, explains the deep connection between alligators and the Seminole culture.
The uniqueness of being told a story about a culture by the actual people themselves is absolutely the gold standard of what tribal museums have to offer. Years ago when tribal leaders were first developing the idea of a museum, I would have never dreamed that once it was built, the museum would grow into what it has now become. The Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum is considered a leader among not just tribal museums, but also its museum peers across other industry sectors.
The drive out to Big Cypress itself is worth it. Keep in mind I do this same drive most mornings! I just jump onto I-75 and continue south to Exit 49 (Snake Rd). It is called Snake Rd for a reason too! The road curves back and forth in an S-Shape, just like a snake when it slithers across sand and leaves a trail. You will see many native birds, and many alligators. Once you enter the Big Cypress Reservation you can’t help but take in the incredible views of the cypress tree-lined cattle pastures. The Seminole Tribe of Florida is one of the largest cattle producing entities in the Southeastern United States.
In today’s virtual world, you don’t even have to drive to Big Cypress. You can visit the museum online at www.ahtahthiki.com/online-exhibits and view an assortment of exhibits that you can spend hours admiring. Whatever you choose to do, you can’t dismiss the important and significant fact that the Seminole people survived against all odds. We survived the vicious attacks by the United States military and destructive federal Indian policy whose only intent was to remove us from the reality of the United States. In addition to surviving, Seminoles learned how to thrive in the face of adversity.
I hope that while you make your plans to include doing something outside and want to break the cycle of routine, come on out and visit us!