Seminoles host American Indian Arts Celebration

By Sandra Hale Schulman
- News From Indian Country -

Hoop dancers, films, artisans from New Zealand and even alligator wrestling made for a lively weekend Indian Arts festival at the Seminole Big Cypress Reservation nestled in the Florida Everglades this last November. The spacious Ah Tah Thi Ki Museum grounds hosted the Indian Arts Festival with dozens of vendors, regional foods, music and more.

Entering the grounds there were dozens of vendors selling gorgeous Seminole patchwork skirts, shirts, jackets and dresses with capes.

The Seminole have a particular style of dress whose history is catalogued in the nearby museum. Clothing in this hot humid mosquito and gator filled terrain required people to be dressed head to toe in light fabrics but keeping arms and legs well covered.

Heavy rows of bead necklaces and feathered headdresses topped feet clad in animal skin boots and moccasins. When sewing machines were introduced by traders in the early part of the century, a dense colorful row of rickrack and stripes were added into the mix. Inside the museum are mannequins and dioramas depicting how the Seminoles lived in this remote and often inhospitable climate.

As more complicated fabrics made their way into the area the fabrics got wilder with sequins, cartoons, and even camouflage patterns. A narrated fashion show brought out elders and kids alike to parade the history and evolution of the clothing.

Alligator wrestling is a huge part of the Seminole history. These prehistoric beasts have always been a source of food and clothing, now a large part of the tourist attraction with wrestling shows and airboat tours of the Everglades to see them out in the wild. Wrestler Billy Walker demonstrated how to drag them by the tail, mount their backs and hold their jaws open to see the surprisingly white mouth and rows of fearsome teeth as the crowd oohed and aahed. He made it look easy but be warned, many a Seminole have lost their fingers to this game, including former Chief Jim Billie.

Walker finished with the gator show then picked up a machete in a nearby chickee hut to chop open some palm stalks to get at the tasty heart of palm deep inside. Cut up into small pieces, the palm makes a good hot dish boiled with garlic or cold with tomatoes. The Seminole have a pretty rich diet with deer, birds, fish, turtle, gator and many wild plants to choose from.

After the wrestling and food tasting, a major attraction came out – Nakotah LaRance, (Hopi/Tewa/Assiniboine) from OhKay Owingeh Pueblo, New Mexico, the world’s best hoop dancer. With his five hoop routine, he’s acted in movies (three films in three years including Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee), danced in a music video (“Geronimo,” by The Knocks and Fred Falke), and put in a two year stint as a featured artist with the touring company Cirque du Soleil’s Totem, where he played the part of “an Amerindian dancer who traced the evolution of species with his rings.”

In his spellbinding performance, LaRance picked up each hoop and then effortlessly transformed them into a fluttering butterfly, a snapping gator, an elegant eagle, and other animal shapes. The finale turned the hoops into a globe he placed on the ground and danced around to symbolize that we are all one. Accompanied by a hand drummer, he is a top notch performer and a major attraction for the festival.

Miss Seminole and Jr. Miss Seminole

Seminole Goth

The Seminoles hosted a cultural exchange Wikuki Kingi and Tania Wolfgramm, Maori natives from New Zealand who demonstrated elaborate wood carving in the forms of clubs embedded with abalone shell and a canoe. Tania worked on a painting all week and presented the finished work, “Future intentions”, to the Seminole Tribe Culture Dept. Back in New Zealand, Wikuki created a landmark carved archway that holds symbols of the Maori history.

The Seminoles also hosted the filmmakers of “More Than A Word” a cutting documentary that analyzes various sports mascot and team names, particularly the Washington football team and their use of the derogatory term Redskins. Using interviews from both those in favor of changing the name and those against, “More Than A Word” explores this hot button topic and presents a deeper analysis of the issues surrounding the sports teams names.

The documentary also examines the history of Native American cultural appropriation and how far back this use of native names within sports organizations goes. The two filmmakers went to sporting events, protests, government offices and even to Native Comic Con to get the story on how the various sides feel about the issue. It’s a complex issue, one that works against history and prejudice.

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