Seminole Heritage Shines Through: Brighton Field Day Festival

By Rachel Buxton


brightfieldday-image-frontBrighton Field Day always kicks off bright and early the Friday morning of the designated weekend with the Brighton preschoolers reciting the American and Seminole Creek pledges of allegiance. Seminole royalty is introduced along with Tribal officials welcoming everyone to the start of the annual festival.

That Friday leading into the weekend is a school day where surrounding counties including Okeechobee, Glades and Highlands shuttle students to the reservation. School children are given an opportunity to learn the culture and traditions of not only the Seminole Tribe of Florida but of other Native Tribes from across the country. Students get to explore the different cultures through exhibitions ranging from alligator wrestling to snake handling and traditional stomp dancing.

brightonfieldday-image1“We feel very strongly about the educational component about educating our neighbors, and who better to educate than students,” Tribal member Michele Thomas said. “If we can get students to come out and get excited about an alligator wrestling show or rodeo then they’re going to go home and tell mom and dad about it and try to talk their parents into coming back for the festival the next day or two.”

Each day the parking lots and stands are packed to capacity with tourists and guests, all trying to get a brief glance into the life of Native people.

The Brighton community invites several outside Tribes to participate in their annual event. Every year members from the Haskell University PowWow Dance group make the trek to Brighton to share their bright colorful dances. For several years the Aztec Fire Dancers from Mexico City would visit Brighton and take part in the Native festival. Last year they made a return demonstrating their traditional dances.

“People think that all Indians are the same,” said Tribal member Emma Johns. “By showcasing another tribe here by the PowWow dancing, they’re able to realize every tribe is different. It’s able to clear up so many misperceptions of what Indian people are, what they look like and how they live.”

brighton field day and festival 2013Brighton always tries to add to the event each year to keep things fresh. Last year new additions included personalities from the national television show Swamp Men. Gus Onebear and Jonathan Cattail were on hand for pictures and autographs. International native hoop dancer Kevin Locke of the Lakota Sioux Tribe was also new to the event and got the audience involved bringing volunteers down to take part in a few of his dances.

Another monumental addition last year was the mascot that says it all. Making history and representing all that the Seminole Tribe stands for, Florida State University’s mascot, Chief Osceola holding his spear and riding his horse, Renegade, entered the rodeo grounds as the grand marshal of the parade that is held the Saturday morning of the festival weekend.


Keeping the Seminole heritage alive, alligator wrestling is always a big hit with the crowd when a Seminole Tribal member showcases several alligator handling techniques. A snake handler is always on hand from Hollywood’s Seminole Okalee Indian Village to get people on the edge of their seats as they parade around the arena with a variety of venomous snakes and other exotic animals.
Visitors also get a chance to learn about the Seminole Tribe by taking a tour through the traditional native village set up on the grounds. Under the chickees, a type of house on stilts, at the culture camp, cooking demonstrations are put on as well as sewing and basket making demonstrations by several Seminole elders.

“It’s like a living camp so people can wander through and visit with the ladies and watch some of these things that are actually being made,” said Thomas. “That’s another way that people can take a look into our lives and see and learn a little bit about us.”

seminole-native-clothingIn addition to the living village, several Native vendors sell traditional Seminole patchwork, clothing, beadwork, artwork, wood carvings and much more.o people can wander through and visit with the ladies and watch some of these things that are actually being made,” said Thomas. “That’s another way that people can take a look into our lives and see and learn a little bit about us.”

“For the Tribal members it offers them a chance to bring their products that they want to sell,” said Tribal member Amos Tiger. “Our biggest clientele are the elderly people who they come strictly for the arts and crafts.

Arts and crafts are a popular draw during Field Day but many would agree including Tribal member Willie Johns that the food is everyone’s favorite part.

“I like to walk around and visit all the various booths trying out all the different foods,” Willie Johns said.

The food vendor lines are always the hotspot of the festival. Traditional frybread, pumpkin bread, Indian tacos and fried pork chops are definitely a few of the favorites enjoyed over the weekend.

“I think we all look forward to all of the great food,” Thomas said. “We can eat this all year long, but there’s just something about it at Field Day that makes it taste even better.”

Over the years Brighton has added a carnival adding to the fun and giving the youngsters a little bit more to enjoy. From roller coaster rides to cotton candy and to carnival games no child leaves without a smile on their face and a sugar high.

brightonfieldday-image5The Brighton Field Day has continued one of their longstanding traditions holding traditional clothing contests giving tourists a chance to see the beautiful, handmade Seminole regalia.

“The women try to out do each other on their sewing,” Tribal elder Stanlo Johns said. “They want to make their dresses the best there is with their stitching really showing up. Of course you can look at two or three different dresses and see how they were made and then kind of tell their workmanship, and so I know they want to keep this up.”

No Brighton Field Day is complete without a rodeo. After the days’ events Brighton hosts a Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) rodeo. Cowboys from all across the country come to compete in the many stock events from steer wrestling, bareback riding and, of course, bull riding. Wrapping Brighton Field Day up Sunday afternoon is the PRCA’s Xtreme Bulls tour rodeo which features only bucking bulls.

PRCA Extreme Bulls“A lot of people come to the Xtreme Bulls because there’s a lot of interest built up in the bull riding event,” Tiger said. “It brings the top 40 cowboys in the PRCA and they all come down here to little ole Brighton to participate in the rodeo and to participate in the Xtreme Bulls. So it really works good for us here.”

As Field Day continues to grow each year the rich history of its beginnings are never forgotten and the younger generations are constantly reminded by their elders of when and how it got its start.

Seventy-five years ago Brighton Field Day was definitely not what it is today. In November of 1938, Mr. and Mrs. Boehmer, two teachers who were residing on the Brighton reservation got the idea to start a “day of fun” they called it. It was a day for Tribal community members to visit, have fun and to enjoy a barbecue dinner.

“When it first started it was brought out to be a sporting event between the different reservations, different communities; they’d all come together and we would participate in the athletic events, relay races, 100-yard dash, all sorts of different type of timed events,” Tiger said.

Over the past 75 years, the event has continued to evolve adding the rodeo in the 70s, the parade in the 80s and bringing in more and more entertainment and fun. The event was eventually opened to the public allowing Seminole vendors the opportunity to sell their arts and crafts. A princess pageant was added for the Tribal youth giving them a chance to represent their community.

“It’s important because people are like ‘Wow, you have your own royalty as well,’” said Johns. “They realize we value our women. We don’t have to go in the outside world to feel beautiful, we can stay right here and we know that we are beautiful.”

Seventy-five years later, Brighton Field Day hasn’t changed all that much in the grand scheme of things. The core principles behind it are still there. The relay races are over but there’s still all the fun, all the culture and definitely all the food. It has only evolved into a much bigger and better event.

“Field Day has created a more or less bonding experience between the communities and reservations and each year it’s a little different but everybody likes to come together and enjoy the cuisine, camaraderie, it’s just a family atmosphere all together,” Tiger said. “It’s just a super event.”



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