Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum – Seminole Tribe of Florida

Leaving the hectic madness of congestion and traffic, as you enter the stilling vastness of the open Everglades, you begin to decompress. The Seminole Tribe of Florida’s Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum is still another 25-minute drive north on Exit 49, off I-75. As you travel through the Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation’s rich swampland you can sense a completely different pace which envelops you. Along with the many birds and wildlife, you soon begin to see the fields of cattle – one of the Seminole’s main industries. You arrive at the Museum and you are welcomed by the traditional continuously burning fire pit – a symbol of “Welcome.” You have arrived at an extraordinary place. Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki – a place to learn, a place to remember.

Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum. Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation.

To celebrate, preserve, and interpret Seminole culture and history is the Museum’s mission. The museum tour begins with an introductory film projected on its five-screened auditorium stage, narrating the Seminole Tribe’s cultural and historic background. The permanent galleries of the museum have life-size exhibitions of 19th and 20th century Seminole life. The temporary exhibit spaces feature different topics and stories of Seminole culture, past and present. The galleries lead out to a mile-long elevated boardwalk through a 66 acre cypress dome where you can appreciate all its natural flora and fauna in a relatively shady stroll. Besides informative placards along the way, the walk includes an open area with a recreated Seminole Village where Tribal artisans demonstrate traditional arts and crafts.
The Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum is a designated Smithsonian Institution Affiliate and it is the first tribally owned and governed museum to receive accreditation from the American Alliance of Museums (2009).

Mrs. John Cypress and Sadie Tommie, her sister, at John’s village in Big Cypress. They are standing next to a sewing machine in a stand. Ethel Cutler Freeman Collection, 1949.
Courtesy of the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum (ATTK Catalog No. 2005.27.834)

“The Unconquered”, as the Seminoles are commonly known, never signed a peace treaty with the U.S. government. Those that persevered and remained in the Southern Florida swampland through the three Seminole Wars – which they consider one long war – while thousands were forced to relocate to the western territories, form today’s Seminole Tribe. They received federal recognition in 1957 and today have six reservations in Southern Florida, from Tampa to Hollywood. The Seminoles are in part descendants of northern Creek people.  But they also have a long history in Florida.  Many Seminoles say, “we have always been here”.

Map of Florida, 1850. Courtesy of the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum.

The Collection
Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum maintains an extensive collection of over 180,000 items, including photographs, documents, maps, oral histories, art and historic items. The Museum Library and Archives has a reading room with newspapers, books, and reference material, and a state-of-the-art collections vault. The museum also has a conservation lab to help in the preservation and restoration of their items. The collection focuses on all subjects related to the Seminole Tribe of Florida.
The extensive Historic Newspapers Collection and the Government Documents date from the early 1800s and contain information on Indian removal, the Seminole Wars, and U.S.-Seminole relations. Some government publications on other Native American tribes may be found here, as well as newspapers articles relating to the Seminole Wars from as far north as New Hampshire.
Other noted holdings include the Brown Family Letters Collection consisting primarily of personal letters by sisters Corinna and Ellen Brown describing life in Florida from early to mid-1800s, and events related to the Seminole Wars.
The William Boehmer Photography Collection documents life on the different Seminole reservations in the early 20th century when Mr. Boehmer taught at the Brighton Seminole Reservation.
The Ethel Cutler Freeman Collection, dating from 1939-1967 when Freeman spent time studying the Seminole culture, contains manuscripts, diaries, and over 700 photographs.
Some of the collection is available for view online.

Tara Backhouse, Collections Manager, displays item in the
Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki archives.

The Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum is well-worth a whole day visit. The museum serves the six Seminole reservations; the breadth of resources available to students and researchers of Seminole culture are impressive. For research and access to use the Library and Archives material, an appointment must be made to ensure assistance will be available.

The Education Division of the museum offers resources and programming for adults and children, and downloadable brochures on how to use the Museum as a resource in the classroom.

The Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki is truly a place to learn, and a place to remember. The pace and the special relationship and respect with the natural world is something we can all learn from today.

Women visiting at Josie Billie’s camp. Ethel Cutler Freeman Collection, 1942.
Courtesy of the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum (ATTK Catalog No. 2005.27.858)

Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum
Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation
34725 West Boundary Road, 
Clewiston, FL 33440
Open 7 days a week, 9am-5pm

For information on the collections please contact:
Tara Backhouse, Collections Manager
(863) 902-1113 Ext 12246 

Library hours: 9am-4:30pm, Mon-Fri. Appointments are necessary.
To make an appointment, please contact:
Mary Beth Rosebrough
Research Coordinator
(877) 902-1113 ex 12252

The reservation has a couple of eating venues, including the Billie Swamp Safari’s Swamp Water Café.