The Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum, located on the Big Cypress Reservation of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, is working in collaboration with the University of Central Florida’s Department of Writing and Rhetoric to annotate a vast collection of Seminole Tribe artifacts and articles.
The collection, consisting of more than 2,600 artifacts from mid-20th century Florida newspapers, sheds light on the history and experiences of the Seminole Tribe.
Funding for the research is provided by multi-year grants totaling $110,000 from the Sam and Virginia Patz Foundation. The Patz Foundation supports the team to work with archival documents and analyze the narratives surrounding the Seminole Tribe of Florida and the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida.
The Seminole Tribe descended from the original peoples of the southeastern United States, particularly Florida, and hold a rich cultural legacy and history deeply intertwined with the region. Their vibrant traditions, artistry and connection to the Everglades in south Florida continue to play a vital role in shaping the state’s cultural landscape, honoring their past.
The writing and rhetoric research team includes Chair and Professor Sherry Rankins-Robertson, Associate Professor Jamila Kareem, and postdoctoral scholar Jeremy Carnes, who are working closely with the community on the project. The team researches the artifacts and summarizes the material, including adding captions that challenge problematic narratives and stereotypes about Indigenous peoples.
The work has two distinct parts: Carnes and graduate Rrsearch assistant Kealani Smith are focused on annotating the artifact captions for the museum’s database, and Kareem is developing pedagogical content for Florida college-level writing faculty in collaboration with the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum. The teaching materials are intended to enhance culturally competent teaching related to Indigenous tribes, communities and peoples.
“Our decolonial approach to contextualizing these articles will make some of these issues more immediately clear and will include historical, social and cultural backgrounds specific to the Seminole Tribe,” Kareem says.
As these communities have been often overshadowed by stereotypes, the goal is to provide historical accuracy and context to stereotype-laden newspaper articles for members of the tribe and anyone else who might engage with the museum’s database.
“Some of the writing about the Seminoles is problematic and reinforces some colonial stereotypes about Indigenous peoples,” Carnes says. “So we are researching, summarizing and adding historical contextualized captions to these historical newspaper artifacts.”
The team is committed to promoting an equal and reciprocal partnership with the Seminole Tribe and the museum, ensuring that community members have a voice in the research process, Rankins-Robertson says.
As the research continues, the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum plans to make the decolonized captions public. The Department of Writing and Rhetoric will distribute the teaching guides to writing faculty throughout the state of Florida and beyond so that other universities have a model to partner with local tribal communities.
Carnes will present his research findings at the 2024 Modern Language Association Annual Convention in January. His presentation titled Everyday Life, Everyday Joy: Local Journalism and Indigenous Communities in Florida will highlight the everyday life and joy of Indigenous communities in Florida. The project will be presented at the Past and Present Texts of Joy in Everyday Indigenous Life panel sponsored by the Association for the Study of American Indian Literature.
The Department of Writing and Rhetoric at the University of Central Florida offered a special topic course on Indigenous Rhetorics in Spring 2023. For more information on the project or writing courses, contact Sherry Rankins-Robertson at firstname.lastname@example.org.