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Tampa area Seminole, Bobby Henry leads a group of visitors at Big Cypress Seminole Reservation on demonstration of a traditional welcome stomp dance.
Tampa area Seminole, Bobby Henry leads a group of visitors at Big Cypress Seminole Reservation on demonstration of a traditional welcome stomp dance. / Andrew West/news-press.com
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• Natives: Descendants of people who lived in North, Central and South America before 1500. Some oral histories say Viking explorers came to North America centuries before Christopher Columbus sailed to the Caribbean, so there may have been an earlier European invasion that was not successful in changing most Native traditions and cultures. Estimates on Native populations before 1500 in North America range from several hundred thousand to several million. The 2010 U.S. Census says there are 5.2 million people living in the United States who identify themselves as at least partially of Native descent. Of those, the report says 2.9 million identify themselves solely as Native Americans.

• Immigrants: People of European and African descent who now live in North, Central and South America. Indians here refer to this group as Europeans, white people, Americans, English, Spanish and Spaniards. People of African descent have often been welcomed into Indian societies as they were brought here against their will. Escaped slaves practiced traditional medicine, old-world religions and were skilled at herding and grazing animals such as cattle.

• Seminole: A group of about 3,800 Indians living in Florida who are part of the Seminole Tribe of Florida. The word means “in its natural place” in the Miccosukee language, which is spoken by both tribes.

• Miccosukee: A tribe of about 600 Indians who live on the Miccosukee reservation, about 60 miles southeast of Fort Myers. Miccosukee refers to the indigenous people of this continent as well as their language. Tribal records say Miccosukee were originally part of the Creek Nation, and then migrated to Florida before it became part of the U.S., but traditional Indians say Miccosukee have used Florida lands for thousands of years.

• Traditional: Indians who aren’t members of a federally recognized reservation. Also called independents, about 100 remain today, and they do not receive gambling dividends, health care or other reservation amenities.

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• Chickee: Structures made from cypress poles and woven palm fronds. Methods of attaching poles have changed over the years from strips of oak bark and other trees and plants to nails, screws and metal straps. The foundation posts of modern chickees are often made from pressure-treated pine as cypress poles will rot in about three years, according to traditional builder and artist LeRoy Osceola. The structures were originally designed for ease of erection as Indians were often fleeing European and American soldiers. A chickee functions like a room in a modern home. In a typical village, chickees are often built in a massive circular pattern with a cooking chickee in the center. Other chickees flank this crucial building and function as sleeping quarters, workshops and to store wood and tools. These structures have no hallways or walls. Some traditional Seminoles say the lack of walls allows air to flow. Walled structures, the story goes, keep air in an isolated area, exposing everyone in the room to germs, mental illness and even a bad attitude.

• Medicine: Natural materials from plants and animals used to treat physical and mental illness. Medicine is also used to elevate or diminish emotions. Tradition says one type of medicine was used for warriors to ward off what the modern world calls post-traumatic stress disorder. The medicine protected the warriors and took away the memory and pain of warfare. Medicine can also be used to induce vomiting during cleansing and fasting ceremonies, and as mind-altering agents that produce trance-like effects.

• Medicine man, or bundle carrier
: An elder, typically male, who knows how to properly gather the ingredients in various medicines, concoct those medicines and administer them to those in need. Miccosukee stories tell of bones from animals like the rhinoceros that were carried by African medicine men to the new world.

• Bundle: A collection of medicines used to treat the sick and during ceremonies. Bundles are often wrapped in ornate leafs and tied with simple string. They can contain 150 or more ingredients, and are passed down through generations, from one healer to the next.

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• The Creator: The spiritual entity that created Indians and the plants and animals they use for food, shelter, clothing and medicine.

• Sofkee: A drink made from ground corn meal, roasted corn, dumplings and other starches. Sofkee is common in Florida and across much of the U.S. and it is typically consumed in the morning hours. Some families start every day by drinking sofkee with a dozen or more family members.

• The number 4: Four is a special number in the Indian world. There are four moon phases, four colors on the Seminole and Miccosukee flags (white, red, yellow, black) and the period of mourning after a clan member dies is four days. Some modern tribal literature says the number 4 is also linked to directional headings: north, south, east and west; but traditional Natives say they kept their bearings while traveling by keeping track of the position of the sun during the day and the moon and stars at night.

• Clan: The primary social structure, clans are an extended family of matriarchal order. Females are the center of clans because they bear children, and the women of a particular clan make most of the final decisions on everything from how a child will be raised to what types of discipline should be carried out.Each clan is tied to an animal, plant or natural phenomenon. Traditions say there were once dozens or even hundreds of clans before 1500. Now there are eight: Wind, Panther, Toad (or Bigtown), Bird, Snake, Otter, Bear and Deer. When the last female of a clan dies, the clan is considered extinct.

• Totem pole, or talking tree: A woodcarving used to convey history and traditions. Totem poles are like books, physical representations of concepts such as family, geographic locations and spiritual beliefs.

• Reservation: 1) Corporationlike entities created by the U.S. government. 2) Tribal lands in the U.S. that are home to the vast majority of the 5 million or so Indians today. Reservation lands are scattered around South Florida and are found in areas such as Tampa, Immokalee, Clewiston, Hollywood, Miami and Brighton.

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• Village: A cluster of Native structures used for anything from a home for a small family to the infrastructure of a reservation.

• Patchwork: A style of sewing shirts, coats and dresses that emerged in Seminole and Miccosukee cultures. Patchwork is made by using a variety of colors and symbols to create clothing that tells a story and identifies the person wearing it. The process takes considerable time. Costs range from $150 to well more than $1,000.

• Beads: Small, decorative items strung together to make a necklace, belt or piece of decorative clothing used in ceremonies.

• Camp: A location where a certain clan or family lives, or a place in the Everglades where a significant event occurred. Camps are often used interchangeably with words like villages and hammocks.

• Ceremony: Periodic gatherings where culture and tradition are re-enforced. Ceremonies include healing and purification practices, dances and songs, seasonal food, sweat lodges and medicine. These events are also used to signal the changing of seasons and a new year.

Sources: Interviews with reservation and traditional

Natives, tribal records.

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