Including Native Narratives in Florida’s Tourist Destinations
By Michole Eldred (Catawba/Eastern Band Cherokee)
Who hasn’t heard those words after enduring a long museum tour? So many historical tours and centers feed the tourists an exciting story while making a few bucks. The true story of history is rarely told. Especially when it comes to historical facts that involved Indigenous people. While many sites are making progress by involving Native people in the planning of historical presentations, there is still a long way to go for the truth to be told.
Artists Want the Truth
Flagler College Artist in Residence, Wendy Red Star (Apsáalooke) explored the untold or under-told histories of St. Augustine, Florida. From March 28 to April 10, 2019, Red Star collaborated with Flagler College students and faculty to take aim at this issue.
During her visit, Red Star conducted research and visiting sites such as the Castillo de San Marcos National Museum, also known as Fort Marion, as well as the St. Augustine Historical Society. Her focus landed on the history of the Plains Native Americans who were imprisoned at Fort Marion in the late 19th century. There General Henry Pratt initiated his program of forced assimilation through education in the late 19th century. His program was later institutionalized as the first US Indian boarding school, Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. The history of Indian schools has had lasting repercussions for Native people throughout the United States, including for the Apsáalooke tribe.
Throughout the semester, Wendy worked with students in associate professor Leslie Robison’s socially-engaged art class on a project to research St. Augustine’s heritage tours or sites of local historical significance. Prior to Red Star’s arrival, students were tasked with interrogating their chosen tour or site by asking questions such as: What information is conveyed about this site or in this tour? What information is omitted? From whose perspective is this information? During Red Star’s visit, she met with students individually on multiple occasions. She led group conversations during class time.
Robison’s students are currently creating on an artwork in response to this project. All of their research, including text and photographs, as well as the student’s final projects will appear an online digital platform, Story Maps. This archive will be developed in collaboration with the St. Augustine Historical Society, and ultimately hosted on their website where the public can access it.
As part of Red Star’s exploration of historical truths, Julie Dickover, director of the Crisp-Ellert Art Museum at Flagler College, invited Willie Johns, chief justice and citizen of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, to present a tour of the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument and the National Cemetery. Johns focused on events at those sites that are significant to Seminole tribal history. He told the story of Osceola’s capture and internment from a Seminole point of view. Johns also presented the story of Wild Cat’s escape from the Castillo in the form of audience questioning. “How did he escape?” Different tales about how Wild Cat and his men escaped abound. Some moments in history will never be factually revealed. Around 60 members of the community, as well as Flagler students and faculty participated in this event.
Looking at the Past
Dickover has drawn attention to St. Augustine’s often overlooked historical past by providing an outlet for the Native story to be told. In February 2015, the onsite museum displayed Native artwork in the exhibition Re-Riding History: From the Southern Plains to the Matanzas Bay. The exhibition focused on visual responses by Native artists to the fact that 72 Indigenous individuals were imprisoned at the fort in 1875 to 1878 after the Red River War.
Looking toward the Future
We look forward to seeing more of the Native voice at Flagler college in the form of exhibitions, tours, residencies, and artist panels. Seminole tribal members are looking forward to contributing to the conversation at Flagler College through discussions, tours, and artistic demonstrations this coming fall.
- Re-Riding History: From the Southern Plains to the Matanzas Bay
- Wendy Red Star online portfolio
- Crisp Ellert Art Museum, Flagler College, St. Augustine, FL
- Story Maps, digital platform