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Seminole Roots
By Sherry Bocchicchio

Travel off the beaten path into the interior of Hendry County and one gets the feeling that they have ventured into another place and likely another era far separate from the world as we know it. A world untouched by modern civilization. Driving north from the 'Alligator Alley" section of Interstate 75.the narrow, and winding "Snake Road' seems to lead to nowhere and only a few roadside signs would indicate anything different. Traveling south about 35 miles from the Clewiston area, one is likely to get the same feeling.

But then, there it is , the village rises up out of nowhere. Welcome to the Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation, one of five reservations across Florida and part of some 80.000 acres set aside for the Seminole Indians in the late 1930's. where any notion of discovering some lost and forgotten civilization is shattered when you see this remote community that boasts a rodeo arena complex, a modern tribal school, gymnasium, an airstrip, camping facilities, the Ah-Tha-Thi-Ki Museum which strives to keep the Seminole heritage alive in the minds of tribal children and to enlighten visitors about the proud Seminole culture.

Just west of the museum is Billy Swamp Safari, a popular attraction where one can take airboat and swamp buggy ride, enjoy wildlife exhibits or eat at the cafe which offers a complete menu including gatortail. Modernized chickees offer comfortable overnight accommodations for the adventurous. Here just like anywhere else on the reservation, friendly tribal members are close at hand and more than willing to sit down and chat awhile. Listen closely, and you will hear echoes from the past; a proud past that is ensconced in Hendry and Glades area history.

Long before the earliest 'white settlers' began to homestead in this region, the Seminoles or a portion of them had migrated south from Georgia,somewhere around the mid 1800's after the Seminole Wars forced them into this still untamed wildness known as the Florida Everglades. This migration wasn't by choice, but as a matter of survival.

By the turn of the century, finally free from government oppression, the tribe, while subjected to abject poverty managed to eke out a meager existence by living off the land and taking advantage of Florida's then flourishing Everglades. The area known now as Big Cypress was a favorite hunting ground, and Lake Okeechobee offered up her own resources.Trading with earlier 'white settlers' was the tribes only source of income during that period.

Since then, the tribe has seen a lot of changes including the threat of extinction when early development of the region and the eventual draining of the glades forever changed their living environment.. Still, despite their hardships, the Seminole tribe not only survived but began to thrive in the past 40 or so years and now prospers under the enthusiastic leadership of the vibrant, Chief James Billie.

Today's Seminole Tribe of Florida is based in Hollywood Florida with reservations in Immokalee, Tampa, Brighton, and of course Big Cypress. Their strong economic base made possible by expansion into a number of not so traditional enterprises including :ranching, Seminole bingo, and aircraft manufacturing..

If you'd like more information about the Seminole Tribe of Florida or Billy Swamp Safari visit their website at .

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