Episode 53

53. Tribal Historic Preservation Office Helps Students Map Seminole Life for the Ah-tah-thi-ki Museum


November 5th, 2018

12 mins 31 secs

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About this Episode

The Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Seminole Indian Museum, on the Big Cypress Reservation in the Florida Everglades, serves as the public face of the Seminole Tribe of Florida. But the museum collaborates with the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s Tribal Historic Preservation Office (THPO) next door to preserve the tribe's culture, working for and with the community through various shared projects.

One of the projects is called Are We There Yet: Engaging the Tribal Youth with Story Maps, which is now on display in the museum. Quenton Cypress, Community Engagement Coordinator at THPO, and Lacee Cofer, Geo Spatial Analyst at THPO, started the project with Juan Cancel, Chief Data Analyst at THPO. The team taught 11th grade students at the Ahfachkee School (the school on the Big Cypress Reservation) GIS mapping software and helped the students create their own maps about a Seminole or Native American topic.

In this episode, the THPO team talks about the process of teaching the students how to use geospatial software, the Story Maps that the students created, and how the students reacted to seeing their work in the museum gallery.

Image: Lacee Cofer, Juan Cancel & Quenton Cypress presenting thier project at the Esri User Conference in San Diego in 2018.

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00:00: Intro
00:15: The Big Cypress Reservation & Quenton Cypress
01:05: Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki on Episode 16 of Museum Archipelago
01:48: The Seminole Tribe of Florida’s Tribal Historic Preservation Office
03:00: Lacee Cofer
03:30: Are We There Yet: Engaging the Tribal Youth with Story Maps
03:58: Juan Cancel
04:50: “But how does that serve the tribal community?”
07:09: The Topics Students Choose
08:58: Students Seeing Their Work at Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki
10:32: Why Mapping?
11:46: Outro / Watch Making-Of For Free on Patreon

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Below is a transcript of Museum Archipelago episode 53. Museum Archipelago is produced for the ear and the only the audio of the episode is canonical. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, refer to the links above.

To get to the Big Cypress Reservation in South Florida and the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Seminole Indian Museum inside it, you drive an hour into the Florida Everglades. By the time you arrive, you’re isolated from almost everything else.

Quenton Cypress: Here in Big Cypress, it's just us. There's a convenience store that's open till 11 o'clock at night. There's no Walmart, no Publix, no Walgreens. Anytime we need just some toilet paper, we have to drive an hour. And we have to make sure we get everything.

This is Quenton Cypress, Community Engagement Coordinator at the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s Tribal Historic Preservation Office.

Quenton Cypress: My name is Quenton Cypress, and I'm the Community Engagement Coordinator. And I'm actually a tribe member. I'm from this reservation that we work on. My job is to make sure the community works with us.

The Seminole Tribe of Florida’s Tribal Historic Preservation Office, or THPO, where Quentin works, is separate form the The Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Seminole Indian Museum.

We’ve talked about the museum before: on episode 16 of Museum Archipelago, I interviewed Carrie Dilley, Visitor Services and Development Manager at Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki, about the high percentage of museum visitors from outside the U.S. Through these visitation trends, the museum serves as the public face of the tribe to the outside world.

But the museum, more importantly, serves the tribal community. Quenton and the THPO work to preserve his culture, and ensure it is not exploited. And this means a strong connection between the museum and tribal members.

Quenton Cypress: There are a lot of things that we can give out to the public, but there are certain things that we can't. It was actually our chairman at the time, James Billy, who wanted to build the museum to talk to the tourists and different folks that came around to tell them more about the Seminole history. So it started off very community involved. And we had several community members that were running the museum. And just over time different things happened and they started working somewhere else.

And then the museum became more non tribal populated. And that connection between the museum and tribal members, it just kind of fell apart in a way. Not so much in a bad way. They just didn't have no more tribe members working here to full connect us with the museum. Sometimes tribal members don't feel comfortable coming and talking to a non tribal. And telling them their history, their family's history, and different legends and things we have from our culture.

And so in more recent times, I've seen a lot more involvement with the community again. And we got different tribal interns. The tribe offers working programs. So we've got some tribal member kids coming to us, and working for us, through that program. And we got different kids coming to us to fill their community hours for school to graduate..

Lacee Cofer: For a long time they didn't really associate with each other or work together very much. And in recent years that's really changed.

This is Lacee Cofer, who also works for the Tribal Historic Preservation Office.

Lacee Koffer: Yes. My name's Lacee Cofer, and I am the Geospatial Analyst for the THPO. Both the museum and THPO have the goal of cultural preservation. So we perform very different roles, and do it in very different ways. But we still have that common goal to preserve the culture, and to work for and with the community.

Today, both the THPO and the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki museum share a campus -- their buildings are connected via a boardwalk. Both offices have been working on finding new projects that serve their common goal. One of these projects is called Are We There Yet: Engaging the Tribal Youth with Story Maps, which is collaboration of the THPO, the museum, and Ahfachkee school, which is the school on the Big Cypress Reservation. Both Quenton and Lacee created the project with Juan Cancel.

Juan Cancel: Hello. My name is Juan Cancel. I'm the Chief Data Analyst at the Florida Tribal Historic Preservation Office. I manage the archaeometry section. With my team Quenton and Lacee. Pretty much we manage all the mapping, GIS work that goes on in the office.

The project involved teaching the Ahfachkee School’s 11th grade students the GIS mapping software, having the students develop and create their own maps about a Seminole or Native American issue, and finally, presenting those maps in a gallery at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum. It started as a way to encourage young tribal members to get involved in the community. For Juan, that meant starting by thinking about how Quenton, a young tribal member, and Lacee, who was becoming skilled in GIS, could get even more involved at the museum.

Juan Cancel: And what they both do and represent for me at least, is breaking that mold. Together we've been working on developing GIS. Developing mapping to track our information a little bit better. Tracking our information more, location and data and put it all together. But that's good well and all for our office, but how does that serve the tribal community? What we saw a couple of, maybe nine years ago, we went to a mapping conference. It was a international conference. And one of the most impactful presentations we ever saw was, this gentlemen went out into the Amazon, and was mapping with the community out there. With the indigenous tribes out there. But he was doing it with them. He was having them point to a map or explaining what this is. And they together came up with that. And that's where this idea of participatory mapping came about. And it's not a hard idea, it's something they did and we're like, that's genius. But we just took it as well. We're like, you know what? We're gonna apply this here.

To create the program, the team had to create lesson plans for the 11th graders. Lacee thought that students would have a harder time learning how to use the GIS mapping software than writing a research paper.

Lacee Cofer: And it was the complete opposite. So teaching them our GIS online, they caught onto it so quickly. And choosing symbology and uploading images. And just navigating the whole interface was so easy for them. But them I'm like, "All right, we're going to cite our sources using APA," and they're like "What are you talking about?" So it really threw us for a loop. But then the more I think about it I'm like, duh. They use this stuff all the time. They're on their computers and their smartphones and their iPads literally all the time. So I don't know why this surprised me. But it really reinforced the idea that getting to them using technology is a super effective way to do it with teenagers. So it just bridged the gap and really helped us teach them the important of place and topics. And using the science to preserve their culture. And since it was technological and something they used all the time, it just clicked. So it was helpful. And it was good.

The students could choose topics that interested them, as long as it touched on a Seminole or Native American issue. The team helped the students figure out a geographic aspect to their topics and present it all in a story map.

Juan Cancel: It could be any subject, so Lacee prepared a list with Quentin and I on what we want to hit on and some examples of like history, historical figures, sports, fashion, politics. I think they kind of chose the things, I guess ... It's funny they found things that they were really interested in.

Lacee Cofer: Yeah. We had one who is really into hip-hop music, and so he created a story map that talks about different Native American musicians and it was really cool and he was really passionate about that topic and I learned about a lot of musicians that are Native American I didn't know about, and then something that's really important to the tribe is the cattle industry and one of our students discussed the cattle industry and how it played such a pivotal role in the current economic state of the Seminole tribe, and then we had another girl who at the time was participating in the Seminole Princess Pageant, and so she did her story map on Seminole princesses of the past and talked about the pageant and how it got started and how it was important to the community.

Quenton Cypress: All year long, whenever we were talking to these kids and doing this project, we would always tell them, "Hey, this map that you're creating is a chance to tell our history, our culture, and you're gonna be telling it to people all over the world." They couldn't really quite grasp that concept because we're here at the museum an hour into the Everglades by ourselves. So, whenever we were trying to explain it to them all year long, they just kinda gave us a smirk.

Finally, after a semester of work, the students got to see their projects in the gallery at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki museum. As Quintin explains, this shift in medium changed the way the students saw their projects.

Quenton Cypress: It wasn't until that reception day that they walked in and seeing all this work we here at the museum put together to present their story maps to the public. It wasn't 'til that day that they walked in there and seeing the iPads up on the wall and their stories on those iPads. They were fully engaged into those iPads. They were smiling, talking, laughing, and a couple of them were like, "Man, I feel bad that I didn't add on more stuff that I could have added on now." You know, along the way, there was a couple of students that didn't get to get their work to us and they felt guilty that day. It's bad, but it's good at the same time because now they get to see, "Hey, we were being serious. This is gonna be in the museum. This is gonna be on display for the world to see." One of the kids. He was really quiet the whole year, barely talked to us. I think he talked to us maybe like three words and he would never smile, and that opening day, that day we did the reception, he could not stop smiling. He was smiling the whole time. He was laughing. He was talking about the exhibit. to see him acting like that was a really big deal for us, and then for the rest of the high school to see their work on display, we hope that's more encouraging for them, so now they get to see the end result of the whole project and all of the work that goes into it. So if we get to do this project again in the future, we're hoping they're more motivated and they now know that, yeah, their work is gonna be on display. It is gonna be open for the world to see.

The team presented this project in front of other GIS professionals and educators at the 2018 Esri User Conference in San Diego. For all the improvements in mapping technology over the last 20 years, it’s the democratization of the tools of map-making that is the most relevant to museums. There is not one canonical map in the way there is one canonical planet.

Juan Cancel: There's a tribal understanding of the land. The community understands this area. They've been here forever. They've always been in Florida. We don't see mapping the same way. So if I call a road, like, oh did you go down the C130 canal or something like that. Quenton, he's like, "Oh, you mean the fishing spot, down the road near my uncle's house?" So it's a very different perspective.

The project has been a success. The gallery with the student’s maps will remain open in the museum until January 8th, 2019, and the team plans to continue the project with other students in the Big Cypress reservation in coming years.

Juan Cancel: And I think story mapping was the Ideal vehicle, so to say, that transitioned both current technology, online technology, accessibility to the tribal youth. And an avenue to get them started to understand what we do a lot better.