Today more than ever, travelers want to move beyond entertainment to experience. They seek authenticity rather than attractions. They want to discover rather than drive by. Native American tribes are also increasingly opening their doors and opening their communities to provide experiences that help educate visitors about their history and culture, present-day life and future plans.
These immersive, interactive experiences allow travelers to learn ceremonial dances, explore traditional housing and make Native American artwork.
Seminole Shootout Battle Re-enactment
Camp Immokalee, Keystone Heights, Florida
Horses gallop. Cannons boom. Seminoles whoop war cries. The Seminole Shootout Battle Re-enactment, which has been held every February or March since the late 1990s, is an intense event that brings tears to visitors’ eyes and goosebumps to their skin.
“It’s an emotional experience because it really brings them back to that time,” said Melissa Sherman, operations manager of Billie Swamp Safari.
The battle has traditionally been held at Billie Swamp Safari, a tribe-owned attraction on the Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation in south Florida. This year, it was held at Camp Immokalee on the Immokalee Reservation near Gainesville. The move was a big success, Sherman said, and the shootout will likely stay at Immokalee or return to Big Cypress next year.
The event is a re-enactment of the Second Seminole War, the longest of three prolonged wars between the Seminoles and the U.S. military during the 1800s. Although many Seminoles died, and some were relocated to what is now Oklahoma, the tribe was never defeated and is today known as the “Unconquered” Seminole tribe of Florida.
About 40 re-enactors, 20 on each side, stage two or three battles during the weekend festival. Re-enactors “fire” both cannons and guns that boom and pop. Pyrotechnics re-create the crash of cannonballs, sending mud, dirt and water flying. Seminole war cries send shivers down viewers’ spines.
Visitors can learn how to hew wood, make knives and throw tomahawks, and will enjoy Seminole stomp dances and experience “chunkey” games. Groups can also walk through replica 1800s encampments and ask questions of the in-character re-enactors — and maybe even taste some campfire cooking.