There is one thing that the COVID-19 pandemic seemed to do for many… it seemed to hit the PAUSE button, allowing people to assess their lives and to evaluate if they were on the right path. I am definitely one of those people. At first, I sort of felt I had been practicing for retirement and I dove headfirst into the solitude of making beadwork while trying my hand at baking banana bread. A few months of this routine, I quickly discovered that I needed more in my life (and that I don’t really like banana bread). I had time to look back on what truly gave me purpose and I was able to quickly identify my volunteer work on my Tribe’s Repatriation Committee. I knew that work gave me purpose. So I picked up my phone and quickly emailed, Dr. Paul Backhouse, the Executive Officer of the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s Heritage, Environmental Resources Office, and asked him what he had for me!
This was in July of 2021… At the time of this writing, a crisp November morning, it is four months later and I am sitting behind a desk at an office on the second floor of the Billy L. Cypress Building on the Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation. I am the new Director of the Tribal Historic Preservation Office (THPO). We share a campus with our Sister Department, the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum, the nation’s first tribally-governed museum to be accredited by the National Alliance of Museums. For some of you that may sound familiar and it is because for more than seven years, I was the executive officer who oversaw the THPO and museum, as well as a few other programs. Now, I am back, albeit in a different capacity, and LOVING it!
So what do I do? I work in a department that protects the Tribe’s cultural resources, defends Tribal Sovereignty while responding to federal and state agencies’ requests for consultation, as required by law. That sounds like a lot of bureaucratic red tape and it is, so let me talk to you about one of my most favorite projects, a movement called #NoMoreStolenAncestors. It is an effort to have our ancestors returned to the ground. This movement was born out of controversy with the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. They hold more than 1,800 of our ancestors, and have built policies that reinforced their efforts to prevent their return (repatriation) to our tribal nation
The Ancestors were dug up from their places of rest and removed to the shelves and desks of museums, libraries and institutions all over the world. Samples were cut from their flesh and bone, and tests done without our permission or consultation. The time has come to return those ancestors to where they came from and allow them to continue their journey. I have discovered that many of our nation’s most respected institutions do not value our living culture. They are trying to erase our oral histories, our stories, our beliefs while at the same time asking us to validate what we believe in. We are the only political group in the United States who are asked to validate who we are. So although this movement began with our conflict with the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, we will be going to institutions all over the country and world to get our people back.
Although this is a snapshot of my job responsibilities. I have many other bureaucratic roles to fill, but it is the work that I do to defend our ancestors that gives me purpose. In my culture, we are responsible to and for our ancestors. We are also responsible for those grandchildren who haven’t even been born yet, whom I will never meet, but who will still refer to me as “Grandmother.” So who am I, some ask… I’m a 21st Century Native Warrior. Until our ancestors are at rest, we are still at war.
Photo to Left: Tina Marie Osceola and Domonique DeBeaubien in the US Capitol visiting Senator Marco Rubio’s Office, February 2020. Courtesy of Seminole Tribe of Florida