from exhaust fumes, past kitschy road signs of alligators with gaping
mouths, in a sunny, two-story school surrounded by the still Everglades,
a dozen students pore over books and worksheets in the Miccosukee
language while others perfect the art of sewing intricate patchwork.
Across the hall, students tackle math problems.
presence at the Miccosukee Indian School is evidence that more families
are confident the tribe will preserve their culture and at the same
time give Miccosukee children a formal education in the same type
of mainstream school that once worked to strip them of their heritage.
the Indian, save the man," was the concept coined in 1879 by Richard
Henry Pratt, who launched a campaign to assimilate Native Americans
by sending their children to boarding schools in other states. The
campaign continued until the 1940s.
white and black schools turned away Native American students because
neither community thought they knew how to provide for those children,
who often did not understand the mainstream classroom concept and
shied away from appearing too ambitious, said ethno-historian Patsy
West, director of the Seminole Miccosukee Photographic Archives
in Fort Lauderdale.
history of Native American mistrust stems from that assimilation,
which they say bled many Native Americans of their tradition, lesson
by lesson, and is the reason the tribe does not mandate formal education.
the children see their brown faces and dark eyes mirrored in those
of the Miccosukee teacher aides in the classrooms. In the hallways,
they pass paintings of white-haired tribal elders with eyes that
seem to watch them. They see their flag cast in an atrium of stained
glass, washing the school's first floor in shades of black, red,
yellow and white.
have to learn the non-Indian way and the Miccosukee way," said language
arts teacher Bonnie Williams, who is Miccosukee. "In the future,
they're going to need the non-Indian way. But I hope they come back
and fill positions the non-Indians hold. To be the leaders."
Osceola, 15, and her classmates dress like typical teens in baggy
her family constantly reminds her of what makes them different.
parents want me to learn and come to school," said Janelle, who
plans to study philosophy and anthropology. "But the elders want
you to speak your language and keep it alive. It's not that easy."
education wasn't really encouraged because the tribe is so small
and they don't want to encourage people to leave, said principal
Tom Albano, who has been with the school since it opened in 2000.
"But in the four years, I've definitely seen a change in parents
the tribe's population has remained steady at 500, enrollment grew
from 80 students in 2000 to the current 130 students.
Suzanna Tiger-Cypress said she can remember how uncomfortable she
felt outside the reservation and she wants her four children to
understand non-Indian ideas and customs.
up, everything was closed off. We didn't really mingle with anyone.
When we stepped out of that circle we went through racial problems,"
students speak English at the school, many families require them
to speak Miccosukee at home.
of the priority to keep the language alive, teachers fortify classrooms
by wrapping the walls in Miccosukee word signs. A is for abooche,
which means table. Baysheke means bicycle. A haale is a cup.
school holds "culture day" once a month. Students wear traditional
garb in the style of their ancestors.
cook under a chickee, an open-air hut, behind the school, and eat
traditional foods like pan bread, tomatoes over rice, or sofkee,
a soupy mixture of boiled water and grain.
of this helps to guard against the tribe's two biggest fears: leaving
of the Miccosukee tribe are a political group of Florida Indians
who chose not to assimilate into the Seminole tribe of Florida in
the 1950s. The federal government recognized the Miccosukee tribe
as a sovereign nation in 1961 after the tribe crafted its own constitution.
tribe opened the Miccosukee Indian School in 1962, starting out
with 19 children.
Miccosukee really maintained the status of no government, no help,
we'll stand on our own two feet," said West. "They didn't want to
be acculturated to that extent."
Chairman Billy Cypress said the tribe replaced that first school
because it wanted the best for its children and because the new
school doubles as a community center.
school is in the Miccosukee tribal center, off Tamiami Trail, about
18 miles from the tribe's casino on Krome Avenue and a 30-minute
drive from downtown Miami.
administrators run the school, but the tribe develops its curriculum,
determined not to let the federal government control what their
children learn -- ever again.
boasts a state-of-the-art media center, TV studio, two computer
labs, sewing, music, and art rooms, two full-sized gyms with weight
rooms, and four computers in every classroom.
the most elite private school, the school offers one teacher and
two aides for every seven students.
more than five students are enrolled in the upper grades.
trying to get our kids to understand about themselves, about why
we're in the Everglades, why they're different from any other kids.
If you don't know who you are, you're going to spend your whole
lifetime trying to figure out who you are," Chairman Cypress said.
students pursue degrees after graduation, said Albano. Two of last
year's graduate class of four will go to college, but many women
come back to work as teaching assistants, which does not require
a degree. Some men often work as tour guides.
won't divulge how much money the tribe pumps into the school, but
he said the federal government partially funds it.
Department of Interior, which handles the Bureau of Indian Affairs,
budgeted about $520,000 for the school the past school year -- about
$4,000 per student. District schools receive $6,187 per student.
But, like state-funded public schools, the Miccosukee school can
also apply for a number of federal grants, said Lana Shaughnessey,
special assistant to the director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs
Office of Indian Education Programs in Washington, D.C.
don't ever want for anything. Whatever we ask for, the tribe is
generous," said assistant principal Barbara Clark.
school's 13 teachers start by earning the same as their public school
counterparts -- about $32,000 a year. But they get an annual raise
of up to 10 percent -- 5 percent merit and about 5 percent for cost
so spoiled," said Albano, a former principal at crowded Turner Technical
School. "Coming here was like a dream come true."
school, accredited with the Southern Association of Colleges and
Schools, also employs a librarian, a guidance counselor, and two
full-time certified special-education teachers who work with about
25 students, said Clark.
handpicked Albano and Clark three years ago.
who came from teaching a language arts class of 39 students in Miami-Dade,
said the school resurrected her love for teaching.
an ideal situation. Because the county is so focused on test scores,
it took the fun out of teaching and learning," said Clark, who administers
the Terra Nova standardized exam, an aptitude test for private schools.
"Our test scores continue to climb."
assistant Donna Kolodziej, meanwhile, hunches over the beginnings
of a shiny pink and turquoise beaded necklace. She will use her
necklace as a model for her students, who will spend about five
months perfecting the craft.
how to master such intricacies is knowing what it is to be Miccosukee,
said Kolodziej, curling her fingers to allow needle and thread to
slip through the small beads.
ancestors started doing this since the early 1900s when travelers
came over and glass beads were first imported," she said quietly,
her eyes fixed on her work.
is downplayed at the school, said Clark, and leadership comes slowly
because elders teach younger generations to think for the tribe,
learn for the tribe, and work for the tribe.
are also trained to be sensitive to tribal customs that can preclude
students from doing certain assignments. For example, custom does
not allow some clans within the tribe to discuss death and dying
in class, or to dissect frogs in biology class.
sent a note home," said Albano. "Most families said no problem and
some said, "You don't use an animal for the sake of using it.'"
Osceola, the only senior, will be the school's 14th graduate since
2000. Jena said she sometimes feels lonely.
lot of people don't know we exist," said Osceola, 17. "Whenever
people find out about me being Miccosukee they connect me to bingo.
I want to change that."
who wants to be a veterinarian, has her pick of scholarships from
the University of Miami and Miami-Dade Community College. She said
she plans to return and practice on the Tamiami reservation.
said Chairman Cypress, is told in the number of educated Miccosukee
children who return to the tribe after graduation from high school
or college. If the school is successful, said Cypress, the circle
will expand but never break.
percent of students come back because of our teaching and understanding
of where we are and who we are. It's called home. The Everglades.
We're proud of that."