Exhibition Tells the Still-Evolving Story of the Miccosukee

EVERGLADES CITY, Florida — Typically, the seaside town of Everglades City is quiet on a Saturday morning. But during the three days of the annual Seafood Festival in January, the streets were packed with locals and tourists clamoring for a bit of Floridian ease. This year, a special treat awaited them inside the bubblegum-colored walls of the Museum of the Everglades. We are Still Here: The Continuing Story of the Miccosukee Tribe tells their evolving history via photography by Lisette Morales and artifacts by Indigenous and Miccosukee artists, marking a corrective to the decades-long erasure of their history from American textbooks.

Following the Indian Termination Policy enacted by Congress in 1953, a schism began to emerge between some of the Miccosukee elders within the Seminole Tribe and its leadership. By 1962, the Miccosukee Tribe was federally recognized as a unique and separate sovereign nation.

Now, nearly 25,000 people have signed a petition circulated by the Miccosukee urging President Joe Biden to stop the National Park Service from designating large parts of Big Cypress National Park — where many hunt and hold ceremonies — as “wilderness.” That designation would lead to the displacement of the tribe, as the federal government’s designation of Everglades National Park did in 1978, evicting the Miccosukee and Seminole from their ancestral lands. 

The idea for the exhibition began during last year’s Sea Food Festival, when Miccosukee elder and activist Betty Osceola told curator Thomas Lockyear that she wanted a platform to demonstrate Indigenous cooking. That seed of an idea became a historic retrospective of the Miccosukee community at the museum that includes an opportunity to watch Osceola make frybread and other traditional Indigenous foods. 

“It’s important for us as historians to continuously remind ourselves that Indigenous people were here first,” Lockyear told Hyperallergic. “You can’t tell the history of this region without including their history.”

We Are Still Here tells that history through more than a collection of artifacts. What sets this exhibition apart is its deliberate focus on the Miccosukee, who are often overshadowed by more prominent Indigenous groups like the Seminole or Calusa. It required a painstaking process of gathering oral histories, consulting tribal elders, and engaging with community members like Betty and William Osceola. 

Betty Osceola and another person cooking at an event at the Museum of the Everglades

Lockyear’s dedication to authenticity permeates every aspect of the exhibition, from interpretive panels to immersive experiences. As guests enter the museum, they are instructed to follow the tribe’s history in clockwise order, beginning with information on Buffalo Tiger, tribal enterprises such as airboat rides, and the tribe’s relationship to alligators. At the center, a plexiglass case houses a Miccosukee Tribal School Yearbook from around 1981, a handmade palmetto fiber doll wearing a traditional patchwork dress from 2000 by Miccosukee artist Minnie Doctor, a 1970s vinyl record of Miccosukee rock band Tiger Tiger, and additional ephemera from the last century.

At its core, We Are Still Here serves as a timely reminder of Indigenous resilience amidst environmental and legislative challenges. “We have the opportunity to benefit from hindsight,” said Lockyear, “and start looking at where we were and how we want to move forward. This is a perfect time to do that.”

Beyond the exhibit’s closure, he envisions ongoing partnerships in order to showcase contemporary Miccosukee art and explore evolving traditions like patchwork clothing.

Indeed, as guests bustled through the festival’s breezy streets, a line for Osceola’s frybread rolled down the block, a visual instantiation of the exhibition’s success as a platform for amplifying marginalized voices and fostering cultural understanding.

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