The Miccosukee have been in Florida longer than the millions of tourists flocking to see murals in Wynwood. New artwork to honor the tribe and make their presence known was unveiled in late November and covers four walls of a warehouse building in the painted heart of Wynwood at 2600 N. Miami Ave.
Tribal leader and secretary Talbert Cypress chose Bunky Echo Hawk, a Pawnee Indian from Oklahoma to do the mural. The Miccosukee have a colorful history that found them at odds with the US Government in the 1950s when they applied for Sovereignty. The Government wanted to only grant that status to the larger Seminole Tribe, so the Miccosukee, led by Chief Buffalo Tiger, asked other countries to recognize them. When that request was honored by Fidel Castro and the tribe went to Cuba for a proclamation signing, the US changed their minds and gave them the status as long as they renounced Castro.
At the unveiling Cypress said that the tribe had been making a concerted effort to connect to the South Florida community and was reaching out, “like an olive branch,” to show that they are still here and that this mural of faces and cultural patchwork clothing and their environment represents them more than just a casino or whatever else people think of. “There are people and a community behind it,” he said.
This is the first public art the tribe has done outside of their reservation and it came on the heels of Miami Art Week’s and Art Basel’s global audience that will be attending here. 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 depicts the words “The Everglades isn’t just our passion, It’s our home and more needs to be done to protect it. Learn more about the Miccosukee Tribe at www.Everglad.es.”
It shows the strong proud 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 also in traditional garb, her neck ringed with rows of beads. A row of patchwork runs along the top border of the mural. The adjacent image is a powerful political one as a gas-masked Native reaches out to a growling open-mouthed alligator.
The colors are a lurid toxic green, alluding to the recurrent green algae blooms that have been threatening Lake Okeechobee and the oceans on both coasts. The blooms arise from polluted water infested with fertilizer runoff that has killed wildlife, marine life and damaged Florida’s tourism and fishing industries. The artwork had to both entertain and inform as well as be brilliantly selfie-worthy for the Instagrammers, but also promote dialog about the tribe and their work as Florida environmental advocates.
“I am 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 the work that reflects their rich culture, history, and heritage, and that also illustrates their ongoing, longstanding 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!
“We wanted to pick someone who would do the best job to represent us,” said Cypress.
A member of the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma, Echo Hawk grew up in the Pawnee tribal community and in Colorado, which was the western boundary of ancestral Pawneeland. The son of a traditionally artist mother and an artistic, human rights attorney father, Bunky witnessed both art and fights for justice throughout Indian Country. His art has always carried that marriage of Indigenous culture and a larger sense of justice.
As a live painter, he has performed in major venues throughout the country raising much-needed funding for indigenous programming needs. He has worked with Nike, serving as the Design Consultant for the Nike N7 line since 2011, and has recently partnered with Pendleton Woolen Mills to create a blanket for the American Indian College Fund. Through his art and strategic partnerships, he has aided in raising millions of dollars for Indian Country.
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.