Florida’s First Lady Visits BC

By Janice Billie

BIG CYPRESS — On Oct. 4 First Lady Columba Bush was an honored guest at the Big Cypress Seminole reservation. The visit was a result of an invitation extended by Director of Museums Tina M. Osceola. After a visit to the Florida House in Washington D.C., Osceola noted that contributions from the Seminole Tribe would add to the presentation of Florida’s “embassy” in the nation’s capitol.

Bush is the chairperson of the board of trustees for Florida House. Founded by former First Lady Rhea Chiles in 1973 the Florida House is a remarkable resource for visitors from Florida–a “home away from home” in the nation’s capital. Bush was accompanied on this visit by Florida House Executive Director Bart Hudson and Florida House Trustee Carol Williamson.

The schedule for the day included a guided to tour through the Ah- Tah-Thi-Ki Museum, the Ahfachkee School and lunch at the Billie Swamp Safari’s Swamp Water Café. Bush and guests arrived at the museum mid-morning.

The group was greeted by Osceola and several of the museum staff. She and her party were given an extensive guided tour through the museum’s historical displays. The lecture and tour was given by Brian Zepeda of the museum’s Community Outreach department and guide Van Samuels. The guests also took a walk through the vaults of historical documents; and the vaults of the Curatorial Building were also made available for viewing.

Some of the highlighted exhibits were the recently acquired Henry Inman portrait of Seminole Chief Micanopy and the 230 year old Cowkeeper letter. Another exhibit of interest was the submitted works by various Seminole artists for a show scheduled in January.

Following the museum visit the next stop was the Ahfachkee School. Prior communication with Bush’s staff indicated and her group were pleased that the visit would include the school. She dropped in on several classrooms and encouraged the children to study hard and be happy in school.

At the culture program for the pre-k and first year students Bush took an obvious delight in talking to the children about the projects they were working on. She sat under a thatched roof hut of one the chickees as the children showed her grub worms from their worm farm. After much prodding by Hudson, Bush momentarily held one of the grubs one of the students gave her. The moment was filled with laughter and squeals of excitement from the children.

The group headed out to Billie Swamp Safari after a tour of the classrooms and stop by the lunchroom. At the Swamp Water Café Bush and her party were presented a luncheon that included gator bites, catfish, frog legs and Indian tacos. Fortunately for some, there was also soup and salad on the menu.

Chairman Mitchell Cypress joined the First Lady and her guests during their lunch on the Big Cypress reservation. After lively discussions and photo ops with the chairman, Osceola and museum staff, Bush and her party concluded their visit to Seminole Country.