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Big Cypress : Wide Open Spaces

I recently travelled alone to the Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation to attend the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum's 18th Annual American Indian Arts Celebration. The Big Cypress Indian Reservation is located in a remote area of the Everglades in Hendry County, Florida. It's one of many Seminole reservations throughout Florida, including Tampa, Hollywood, Brighton, Immokalee and Fort Pierce. I had never been on a reservation prior to this visit but was motivated by my interest in learning about traditional and contemporary arts of First Nation people, even more so after hearing Wayne Smoke Snellsgrove speak about Native spirituality.


After passing the Miccosukee Reservation along I-75, I detoured down a two lane road that stretched for miles. The sky opened up to meet the land and I was acutely aware of my isolation. As I descended deeper into the back roads I had a brief concern - what if my car breaks down? Who will find me here? The wide open space made the sky feel oppresive. The weight of the clouds were like bricks. I passed acres of land pocked with posts proudly illustrating that a cattle farm lived there. In the distance, my first people sighting in 18 miles! I witness teenagers playing in an expansive field, meandering around a mountainous stretch of trees. It is beautiful here.

I am invited onto Big Cypress by it's large sign and pass several thatched roof structures. I later learn these are called chickees, which means "house" in the Creek and Mikasuki languages spoken by the Seminoles and Miccosukees. It is a shelter supported by posts, with a raised floor, a thatched roof and open sides. The chikees share space with very modern buildings as well - homes of middle to upper class residents. There are pools and daycare centers, a school, medical facilities, First Baptist churches, and centers for seniors. I suddenly feel silly for fearing any automobile trouble. Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum is bustling with people. I was genuinely surprised at how many non-Native people had gathered in this remote place. Girl Scout Troops, cow