‘We Are Miccosukee’ Miami murals honor tribes and wow the public
Sandra Hale Schulman
The Miccosukee and Seminole have been in Florida longer than the millions of tourists flocking to see murals in Wynwood, a relatively new neighborhood in west Miami filled with painting covered walls, galleries, and new condo developments. To acknowledge the tribes, two new artworks have been commissioned to honor the tribes.
A mural for the Miccosukee was unveiled in late November that covers four walls of a warehouse building and is both proud and political. Tribal leader and secretary Talbert Cypress chose Bunky Echo Hawk, a Pawnee Indian from Oklahoma to create the mural.
The Miccosukee have an especially colorful history that found them at odds with the U.S. Government in the 1950s when they applied for sovereignty. The government wanted to only grant status to the larger Seminole Tribe, so the Miccosukee, led by Chief Buffalo Tiger, asked other surrounding countries to recognize them. When that request was honored by Fidel Castro and the tribe went to Cuba in a private plane for a proclamation signing, the U.S. changed their minds and gave them the status as long as they renounced Castro. Won and done.
At the unveiling, Cypress said that the tribe had been making a strong effort to connect to the South Florida community and was extending “an olive branch,” to show that they are still here and that the mural of cultural patchwork, Native faces, and their environmental struggles represented them more than just a casino or airboat rides.
“There are a people and a community behind it,” he said.
This mural is the first public art the tribe has done outside of their reservation and it came on the heels of Miami Art Week’s global audience that attended. Echo-Hawk, 44, was their first choice, Cypress said, “because he’s very thought-provoking with his art and he’s well known throughout the country.”
The mural states: “The Everglades isn’t just our passion, It’s our home and more needs to be done to protect it.
It depicts the face of Chief Buffalo Tiger wearing traditional Seminole patchwork clothing in vibrant shades of turquoise and red and yellow. Next to him is a Miccosukee woman in traditional garb, her neck ringed with rows of bright beads. A row of colorful patchwork runs along the top border.
The adjacent image shows a gas-masked Native reaching toward a snarling open-mouthed alligator and other colors, alluding to the recurrent green algae blooms that have been threatening Lake Okeechobee and the Florida oceans on both coasts, are a lurid toxic green. The blooms arise from polluted water infested with fertilizer runoff that has killed sea-life, wildlife and severely damaged Florida’s tourism and fishing industries. The artwork serves to entertain and inform and is selfie-worthy for the Instagrammer crowd that helps get the images out on social media. Ultimately, the murals promote dialogue about the tribe and their work as Florida environmental advocates.
“I am very humbled and honored to be selected by the Miccosukee Tribe to install the mural in Wynwood,” Echo Hawk said in an email a few days after the unveiling.“ I was excited to create work that reflects their rich culture, history, and heritage, and that also illustrates their ongoing, long-standing battle to protect the Everglades.”
“It blows my mind that I got to paint this wall and create space for the Miccosukee Tribe; not only because it’s Wynwood, but because Wynwood is in the homeland of the Miccosukee. In this era where, as Indigenous people, we don’t see parity in mass media representation, it’s great to see a bold, giant wall that celebrates our complex modern identity. I hope people will be inspired to learn more about the original locals, as well as join allegiance in protecting the Everglades. We need allies!“
A member of the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma, Echo Hawk grew up in the Pawnee tribal community and in Colorado, and he witnessed both art and fights for justice throughout Indian Country. As a live painter, he has performed in major venues throughout the country raising much-needed funding for indigenous programming needs. The mural and its message will be up for a least a year. The Miccosukee hold their annual Indian Arts and Crafts Festival at their reservation on December 26 to January 1.
Just around the corner, internationally renowned Los Angeles-based artist Miles MacGregor, known as “El Mac,” has completed a massive mural of Seminole Kyle James Grant, 17, on the side of the Wynwood 25 apartment building in the heart of the district. Wynwood 25 is one of the largest developments in the area. From the Hollywood, FL reservation, Grant’s father is James Grant and his grandmother is Rosie Grant.
MacGregor was born in Los Angeles and was influenced from a very early age by classic art and the Art Nouveau style. His Native Mexican culture is an element that can also be found in his work. For 20 years, El Mac has been creating gigantic portraits such as this one using a technique he calls “spray paint twisty shading” which gives a softer airbrushed feel. His portraits are often of the faces of his friends or Mexican workers.
MacGregor said that while there have been some weather delays with the Wynwood mural of Grant as he painted during hurricane season, the project was done by December. The result is an almost religious portrait of Grant, wearing a patchwork shirt holding an orange rose, his head ringed by more roses like a halo. The soft shading and delicacy is a marvel in such a large 8-story artwork.
Wynwood gives tours of the murals daily.
Learn more about the Miccosukee Tribe at https://miccosukee.com/
Sandra Hale Schulman, Cherokee, has been writing about Native issues since 1994. She is an author of four books, has contributed to shows at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian and has produced three films on Native musicians.