NCF observes Indigenous Awareness Month with trip to Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum
Cypress Billie near one of the many exhibits of Seminole culture that the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum has to offer. Photo taken by Brynn Halpern.

NCF observes Indigenous Awareness Month with trip to Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum

With Thanksgiving break approaching, it is essential to take a moment to recognize November as a month of indigenous celebration and commemoration. Whether that be in the form of research, activism or community events, each to the improvement of Native American recognition in the United States. New College contributes to this recognition this month by offering students the opportunity to visit the Ah-Tha-Thi-Ki Museum in a trip hosted by the Student Activities and Campus Engagement’s (SAUCE) Student Event Team (SET), in partnership with the residential Afrikana Living Learning Community (LLC). The Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum resides on the Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation where attendees experienced various showings, demonstrations and dance performances. 

Professor of Anthropology Uzi Baram has been a member of the museum for over a decade and will be sponsoring an Independent Study Project (ISP) this upcoming January focused on the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum. 

“Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki is a great museum, and I discuss it in many of my courses to exemplify robust contemporary approaches to representing Indigenous history and lifeways,” Baram said. “I brought museum outreach coordinators and educators to campus for public presentations over the years.”

 Baram’s involvement with the Seminole community is inspiring and encourages students to recognize the indigenous culture local to the Sarasota area. The prevalence of indigenous culture in our community is often hidden beneath layers of colonized history—nonetheless, it should be dug up and discussed.

“I’m hoping to ignite interest among Anthropology students in learning Seminole history to bring back that tradition,” Baram said. “I am proud of my long-term partnership with the museum and am always striving to make my work relevant to the Seminole Tribe of Florida. I have wanted the College to create a relationship with the Seminole Tribe of Florida, as the Tribe has with Florida State University (FSU) and Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU).”

Students were given the oppurtunity to learn about the different Seminole clans such as Wind, Bear, Snake, Otter, Deer and Bird. Photo taken by Brynn Halpern.

The museum offers a unique experience because it has been cultivated by a historically indigenous staff, composed of a variety of Seminole communities—including the founder and Seminole expert Gordon Wareham.

SET Diversity and Inclusion Coordinator and third-year Celeste Kadzis had a strong role when it came to organizing the trip. 

 “I chose this museum specifically because it was indigenous-run by the Seminole tribe, which is rare,” Kadzis stated. “It allowed us to view their history from their point of view, which can make a big difference in general understanding.”

New College Student Alliance (NCSA) Co-Chair of Diversity and Inclusion and thesis student Aurelie Campbell worked alongside Kadzis, creating a seamlessly planned trip. 

“Genuinely, I think I have to thank Jada McNeill who used to work in the Diversity and Inclusion sector within the SA[U]CE office,” Campbell said. “Celeste was already planning this event, and it was in my planning meeting with Jada surrounding DEI we were talking about collaboration and what that looks like on campus.” 

“I am the current and first Africana LLC Resident Advisor (RA), so I was currently trying to find opportunities for my residents to expand and explore their horizons through different cultures, understandings and or through representation,” they continued.

One of the dioramas at at Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum depicting the lives and everyday practices of the native Seminole community. Photo taken by Brynn Halpern.
Seminole made dolls that were a form of income for indigenous communities. When tourists came into indigenous land, natives would sell these crafts as keepsakes. Photo taken by Brynn Halpern.

 As students came to the entrance of the museum they were met with a tour guide and Seminole native Cypress Billie and his young two sons. The group sat around the wood-burning fire as Billie discussed the contents of the museum.

The group entered into a room of dioramas of Native culture, unskewed from European perspectives and came directly from indigenous experiences. While exploring the gallery, students saw depictions of cultural rituals, native clothing and the history of Seminole generations. 

Students were enraptured with Cypress’s words about handwoven baskets and dolls made with love by Seminole women.  Every turn had an abundance of learning and artifacts to observe, which fascinated students such as first-year Molly Branham. 

“I thought the galleries were really well designed and immersive and really emphasized how recent a lot of the events were, which I think is important to remember,” Branham described. “All of the clothes on the life-sized diorama people were my favorite.” 

Students embarking on the one-mile boardwalk through the Everglades, guided by Abena Robinson. Photo taken by Brynn Halpern.

The transition to the outdoors introduced attendees to the environment of the Everglades. The wooden boardwalk spiraled into the marshy Florida environment immersing students in the Seminole’s domain. Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum Education Coordinator Abena Robinson led groups through the boardwalk explaining the significance of each stop on the way. Including recreations of Seminole villages, large pavilion spaces, and informational boards detailing Seminole culture. 

“I love everything about the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum,” Robinson said. “Its unique beauty is interwoven in the tapestry of Seminole culture and flora and fauna of the Everglades. Our main focus is the enrichment and edification of the Seminole Community.”

As students finished up surveys, last activities, and the gift shop full of indigenous crafted items. Proceeds of the giftshop support the Ah-Tha-Thi-Ki Museum and the conservation of indigenous culture and artifacts. For those interested in the collections, library archives or who would like to learn more about the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum, check the museum database for additional information.

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