I grew up in Martin County in the 60s and 70s. Nature and “healthier” rivers were abundant and a part of everyday life. We did not comprehend that the rivers were already dying; we did know of a people whose culture had suffered greatly because our white ancestors had “pushed their way in.” In spite of this terrible history, I was raised to know of the Native People who had lived along our waters’ shores and to respect their ways. We learned of the tribes that had lived here and others throughout our entire country. The Ais, the Seminole, the Miccosukee, the Lakota…
One of the most profound memories of my youth is local artist, James Hutchinson and his wife, Joan, who lived with the Seminole Indians at Brighton Reservation for six years, located on the north rim of Lake Okeechobee. I will share part of their story today.
James Hutchinson, Florida Artist Hall of Fame: (http://dos.myflorida.com/cultural/programs/florida-artists-hall-of-fame/james-f-hutchinson/)
James Hutchison’s website: (http://www.jameshutchinsonart.com/gallery/florida/)
To set the tone, I would like to begin with a reading from Black Elk, a Lakota, from out west:
“I am blind and do not see things of this world; but when the light comes from Above; it enlightens my heart and I can see, for the eye of my heart sees everything. The heart is a sanctuary at the center of which there is a little space, wherein the Great Spirit dwells and this is the eye. This the eye of the Great Spirit by which He sees all things and through which we see Him. If the heart is not pure, the Great Spirit cannot be seen, if you should die in this ignorance your soul cannot return immediately to the Great Spirit but it must be purified by wandering about in the world. In order to know the center heart where the Great Spirit dwells you must be pure and good, and live in the manner that the Great Spirit has taught us. The man who is thus pure contains the Universe in the pocket of his heart.”
It is our hearts that will bring back the river of grass….”Kahayatle”… “Love’s power” is transformative and changes broken people, and broken waters…
So to continue, artist, James Hutchinson, was long time friends of my parents; in 1962 he and his wife Joan received an Arthur Vining Davis Foundation grant, and moved to the Brighton Reservation to paint portraits of the Seminole elders. Many years later, Mr Hutchinson wrote me in a personal letter in 2009 after my husband commissioned him to paint “Lena Tiger”—the figure chosen by Hutchinson when I asked for a woman to go with my warrior prints.
The letter reads:
“When Joan and I moved to the Seminole Indian Reservation at Brighton, we found ourselves at a loss as to begin our work…there were many weeks where we were isolated from the tribe and we thought we had failed. Lena Tiger was wife of the last true medicine man, Waha-Tiger. She saw how lost we were and came to our rescue, taking us around to meet several families’ campsites scattered around the reservation. Our travels with her gave us a sense of place…Lena introduced us to Billie Bowlegs III who became our close friend and taught us a few words of Muscogee as well as stalking.
She was an endless source of Indian etiquette which was essential to outsiders like us….Lena was a person of the of the highest character, one who witnessed great change and challenges to her people and one who offered the welcomed hand of friendship.”
Without this “friendship, this “love,” Hutchinson would never have been able to document the Seminoles of that era and learn of their historical brothers and sisters first hand. The work that Hutchinson did at Brighton defined his career and helped others appreciate a culture their ancestors had destroyed. Healing begins…
The moral of the story?
We too must offer the hand of “friendship” to our “enemies.” This does not mean that we do not stand up for what we believe in, but it does mean that we open our hearts to those who “cannot see.” It is through being open that the power of the Great Spirit will bring back life, and light, to the Florida Everglades, Lake Okeechobee, and to the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.
*In their own Miccosukee language, the Tribe uses the word “Ka/ha/ya/tle” to refer to the shimmering waters…the Everglades.