In the Seminole language, Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki means a place to learn. And that is the name of the Seminole Indian museum at the Seminole Indian reservation in Big Cypress Community, which was directly west of our campground in Sunrise, Florida. The mission of the museum is “To collect, preserve, protect and interpret Seminole culture and history – inspiring an appreciation and understanding of the Seminole language. “
The members of the Tequesta and the Calusa tribes, the original residents of South Florida and the Everglades, had no resistance to the diseases brought by European explorers. Entire civilizations throughout Florida died of measles, fevers and influenzas.
The early history of the Creek people into Florida is not well understood. By the 18th century, Creeks began moving south into Florida. They banded with any remaining aboriginals and were joined by escaped slaves to become the Seminoles, a word that means runaways. They continually escaped from the white man, survived three Seminole Indian Wars and are the only native American tribe that never signed a peace treaty with the government.
“After the wars, the few remaining Seminoles retreated deeper south into the Everglades and made their living as hunters, guides and sometimes, curiosities for the tourists. They were also able to make a living while maintaining a distance from the influences that tried so hard to change them.
The 1950’s were a turning point in the history of the Florida Seminole people. Tribal leaders moved forward and by 1957 had drafted a Tribal constitution. They attained self government through the formation of a governing body, the Tribal Council.
The Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Seminole Indian Museum officially opened its doors to the public August 21, 1997 helping to commemorate the 40th anniversary of federal recognition of the Seminole Tribe of Florida. It is home to over 30,000 unique artifacts and archival items. The Museum also boasts one and a half miles of elevated boardwalk through a 66 acre cypress dome. The boardwalk offers educational placards in English, as well as the two languages of the Seminole (Mikasuki and Creek), identifying 67 different plant species and their traditional Tribal uses. The boardwalk leads to a recreated Living Village wherein Tribal artisans demonstrate the traditional arts and crafts of woodcarving, beadwork, basketry and the distinctive Seminole patchwork.
In April of 2009, the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Seminole Indian Museum was awarded full accreditation from the American Association of Museums (AAM). This designation is largely significant in that the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki is the first tribally-governed museum to have received accreditation.”
The museum was only four years old when we left Florida in 2001 to live in Denver, and we’d not been aware of it previously. There is obviously still much that we have to learn about the history of Florida, and I’m more fascinated by it now than I’ve ever been. We thoroughly enjoyed the museum and the boardwalk and learning the history of this very resilient tribe “the unconquered Seminole Indians”.