Miccosukees can be a reclusive lot, unlike their more flamboyant brethren, the Seminoles. But on Saturday (Sept. 28), they'll show the best of their culture for American Indian Day.
The free festival, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., will feature some staples of Miccosukee culture: alligator wrestling, airboat rides, cloth dolls, beaded necklaces, patchwork dresses and jackets.
Also there will be foods like frybread and sofkee, a food drink made of roast corn. Less common sights will be the Osceola Brothers Band and a demonstration of tribal stomp dancing.
The Miccosukees will also import a performer: Grammy-winning native American flutist Robert Mirabal of Taos, N.M.
Site for the festival is the Miccosukee Resort and Gaming site, 500 SW 177th Ave., Miami. Anywhere from 11,000 to 15,000 people are expected.
"Come see us and enjoy us as a people," Pete Osceola, one of the tribe's four judges, said during a recent preview for media and community leaders at the Miccosukee embassy in Miami.
Although there are only 596 Miccosukees, they have the trappings of a full-fledged society: schools, a clinic, healthcare, law enforcement and other services. And, of course, they have their own territory: Deep in the Everglades, west of Fort Lauderdale.
"Some call it a swamp, but to us, it's our homeland," Pete Osceola said. "We're a sovereign nation."
The Miccosukees have retained a measure of their heritage, according to tribal leaders. Tribal Chairman Colley Billie said that 90-95 percent of them still speak the indigeneous language. Families still gather to eat, converse and bond. And the family groups known as clans — with names such as Bird, Wind, Otter and Panther — hold regular gatherings as well.
"It's always a challenge how to relate to the outside world," Billie said. "But we've managed to hang onto our culture."
He and other Miccosukee leaders freely divulge another purpose for the Saturday celebration: to draw attention to a plan by the Florida government to lower the level of water in Lake Okeechobee, raised by a very rainy 2013. The state plan is simply to dump water into the Everglades — water, the Miccosukees charge, that's considered too polluted to release into rivers that lead to South Florida's cities.
"The Everglades gave us water and shelter," Billie said. "Now it's in danger."
Although the Miccosukees are fighting the plan, they also call for a restoration of the natural flow of the water into Florida Bay. "But they should clean up the water first," Billie said.
It was Billie who called for a local celebration of American Indian Day after becoming chairman three years ago. He realized, for one, that few Americans knew the Miccosukees for anything except their casino. They even thought the tribal emblem — a chickee, or thatch shelter, inside an orb of black, red and yellow — was the casino's logo, he said.
Various state governments had been declaring days to honor native Americans for about a century. In 2009, Congress and President Obama proclaimed the day after Thanksgiving as "Native American Heritage Day." Billie, however, chose the fourth Saturday in September, a date first proposed in 1919 by an Indian rights advocate named the Rev. Red Fox James.
Kids' rides, airboat rides, alligator demonstrations and a fine art exhibit will be held throughout the day, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday. Here's a schedule of other events:
11:30 a.m. — Welcome.
Noon to 1 p.m. — Osceola Brothers Band.
Noon to 6 p.m. — Fine art exhibit.
1:30-2:30 p.m. — Miccosukee Stomp Dancers.
3-4 p.m. — Miccosukee Fashion Show.
5-6 p.m. — Concert with Robert Mirabal and his band.
For more on the Miccosukee tribe, call 305-222-4600 or visit the tribe's website.
James D. Davis