Experience the Florida Seminole’s story at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum

11/27/2011  | 
Field Trip Destination

When visiting the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum in the rich swamplands of the Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation, students will be introduced to scenic roads, lush vegetation, and a thriving community of Seminole people. The nationally accredited Museum offers guided tours, which may be tailored to include specific content that meets educational standards for social studies that include - American history: historical inquiry, analysis, knowledge, chronological thinking, exploration and settlement of Florida, growth and westward expansion; and geography: physical and human systems.

The Seminole Story

The Seminole story is a tale of survival and ingenuity. Through resourcefulness, the Seminoles outlasted U.S. government troops in the three Seminole Wars, and they lived with alligators, bobcats and bears in the forbidding cypress swampland of southern Florida. Through determination, hundreds of Seminoles remained on their homeland when the government forcibly relocated thousands of their relatives to the western states and territories. Through skill and originality, the Tribe created a culture that has flourished.

The Tribe’s endurance in adversity and its prosperity have defined it as Seminole. Here in the Everglades, the rich, diverse vegetation have sustained the Tribe for centuries. Like the swamp ecosystem, its history is a blend of diverse leaders, valiant warriors, exceptional artwork and distinctive traditions, with a legacy as lasting as the Seminoles’ signature sofkee, a corn-based meal.

First Peoples of Florida

As one of the first peoples of Florida, numerous traditions have distinguished them: alligator wrestling, big shirts and turbans for men, women’s glass bead necklaces, bright patchwork clothing designs, dolls of palmetto fiber husk and cotton, thatched chickee dwellings of cypress and palmetto, and dug-out cypress canoes.

The name Seminole came from Spanish explorers, who encountered our ancestors in Florida in the early 1500s. The Spaniards called some of these indigenous people cimarrones, or wild people, because they refused European domination. The word became part of one of the Seminole languages, Mikasuki, and by the mid-1800s, U.S. residents called people in Florida Seminoles.

The Unconquered

Having never signed a peace treaty with the U.S. government, the Seminoles are known as an unconquered people. But their freedom didn’t come easily. Modern Seminole history began in the 1700s, when Creek Indian cattlemen from Georgia and Alabama moved to Florida and mixed with their Seminole ancestors. The earliest recorded Seminole town, Alachua, was established in 1740 in northern Florida. In the three Seminole Wars, between 1818 and 1858, the U.S. government tried to defeat the Florida Seminoles to gain land and cattle. The U.S. government relocated about 3,000 Seminoles to Oklahoma as they moved with other tribes to the west.

The small group of Seminoles who defied the removal and stayed in Florida worked as cattlemen, hunters and guides and also sold crafts and wrestled alligators for tourists. The Tribe received federal recognition in 1957, and it has six reservations in South Florida, from Tampa to Hollywood.


Seminole creativity has had many outlets. With sewing machines acquired through trading in the late 1800s, they enhanced their clothing with their trademark patchwork designs. The Seminoles made women’s coin necklaces and other silver jewelry, and they continue to craft sweet grass baskets. The Green Corn Dance is part of a traditional belief system that the Seminole still observe today. They are also passionate story tellers - their stories feature panthers, rabbits, otters and other Everglades wildlife. The tales reflect traditional Seminole harmony with nature, through which they’ve been stewards of their environment from the start.

Student Programs

The Museum offers guided tours and programs suitable for all ages and grade-levels. The hour long Gallery Tour includes an orientation film and a hands-on tour, using artifacts crafted by Tribal members that helps students exercise skills of historical inquiry and analysis. Discussion topics include Seminole history, hunting, marriage, transportation, clothing, storytelling, the green corn dance, stickball, and more.

The mile-long Boardwalk Tour is a must-do!  Students will encounter the ecosystem of the Big Cypress Reservation. Winding through a beautiful 60-acre cypress dome, this tour highlights more than 60 species of plants and their traditional uses by Seminoles for food, medicine, and shelter. The boardwalk is accessible for the physically challenged, and wheelchairs are provided at no additional cost.

Feel free to spend a half day or a whole day with the Seminole. They love sharing their living history and culture with students. The Half-Day Program, which takes about 3.5 hours, includes the orientation film, a tour of the galleries, the boardwalk, and a classroom craft. There are a variety of children’s crafts available that teach about Seminole culture, including miniature chickees, beaded critters, or patchwork bookmarks.

Originally designed for Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts to help fulfill the Native American Culture patch and merit badge, the Full-Day Program includes the orientation film, a tour of the galleries, a lunch break, the boardwalk tour, one classroom craft and an activity.

By applying math and science skills in the context of history, students can get outside the classroom, get their hands dirty and learn how archaeologists protect, record and interpret Seminole history at the 2012 Archaeology Day in March. Students will learn from professional archaeologists, Geographic Information Systems specialists, and architectural historians.

The program, designed for students in fourth through sixth grades (ages 9-11), will teach the importance of preserving archaeological and historical sites through a series of activities that give a greater understanding of geography and of the Seminoles’ value of preservation. In small groups, students will be guided through a series of stations where they will participate in activities led by tribal archaeologists and other professionals.  Each activity will last about 10 minutes. Activities will focus on orientation and mental mapping, Chickee architecture, map orienteering, site digs and surveys, artifact analysis and reconstruction and cultural preservation.

Teacher Workshops

The Museum offers a number of programs for educators, too.  For 2012, teachers can learn about the Seminole Wars from the Seminole perspective in the Seminole Wars Workshop. Teachers will gain knowledge of Seminole history that will change the way this topic is taught in the classroom. From the causes and conflicts that lead up to the First War to the laws and acts that led to the Second War and finally the rebuilding and changes following the Third War, this comprehensive workshop will give teachers the resources necessary to inspire their classed to learn more about the Seminole people and the conflicts they endured.

The Dimock Photos Workshop will focus on a very specific time in Seminole history-—1905 to 1910—portrayed in the photographs of A.W. Dimock. These photographs will be examined to learn more about who Seminoles were at the turn of the century and how the portrayal of them has changed to today.

Onsite Cultural Demonstrations

Located half way along the path of the boardwalk, next to the ceremonial grounds is the Living Village, which depicts a Seminole village and/or tourist camp from around the turn of the century. Here, Tribal elders demonstrate traditional arts and crafts – available for purchase— and they are available to answer questions. The Living Village is open daily; however, there may be days in which no Tribal elders are present due to inclement weather or cultural reasons.

Traditional Arts are activities passed on from one generation to the next within families and tribal communities. These activities include music, dance, storytelling, crafts, working skills, celebrations, and chickee building. This program promotes these traditions through demonstrations.  Check the museum website calendar for specific dates.

Outreach Programs

Bringing awareness of the history, culture and collections of the Seminole Tribe of Florida to the public is an important part of the Museum’s mission.  The Outreach Programs and Traditional Arts Demonstrations offer in-depth presentations at schools.  The presenters typically serve the immediate area of Southern Florida (Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Hendry, Glades, Collier, Lee, Okeechobee and Hillsborough counties), but are occasionally available to do presentations outside of these areas, depending upon the request.  A variety of topics are covered, most commonly: Seminole War history, patchwork clothing, dolls, chickees, Seminole foods and traditional storytelling.

Bring Your Class

Tours are offered in English and, upon request, Spanish. Tours reservations are honored before walk-in requests, so calling ahead is advised. All requests for museum tours and programs are processed through the Assistant Education Coordinator Sara Whitehead at (863) 902-1113 Ext. 12211 or [email protected]. Guide by cell audio tours are available throughout the property for a self-guided experience.

For more information, visit www.ahtahthiki.com.
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