Seminole Princesses and Progress in the 2010s
Welcome back to our Decades of Seminole Tourism series! Over this series, we have traced the triumphs and struggles of Seminole tourism over the decades. We’ve traveled from the first forays into tourist camps to the monumental successes of the casino industry. Last month, we looked at the 2000s. The Seminole Tribe rocked its way through Y2K, starting with a Phish concert on the Big Cypress Seminole Indian reservation. This week, we are looking at the changes to Seminole tourism during the 2010s as we inch closer to Seminole Tourism today. Additionally, we will focus on one of the major triumphs of the decade, the crowning of the first Seminole Miss Indian World, and how the Seminole princesses work to create a better future for the Seminole Tribe and Indigenous communities.
In our featured image this week, Cheyenne Kippenberger joins the Tribal Council to celebrate her win as the first Seminole to be crowned Miss Indian World in 2019. Left to Right, you can see Hollywood Councilman Chris Osceola, Chairman Marcellus W. Osceola Jr., Miss Indian World 2019 Cheyenne Kippenberger, Brighton Councilman Andrew J. Bowers Jr. and President Mitchell Cypress. (Image by Kevin Johnson, via Seminole Tribune)
Changing with the Times
During the 2010s, Seminole gaming continued to grow and expand. This decade fully solidified the power of the Seminole Tribe of Florida. They also diversified their business holdings, making themselves more resilient. An example from this decade included buying majority interest in a citrus processing plan. In turn, they expanded their partnership with WG Roe & Sons. On the expansion, then-president of Seminole Tribe of Florida Inc. Tony Sanchez stated that “The Tribe is growing and diversifying its business interests by partnering with local Florida, family companies to strengthen the people and agriculture of Florida” (23 July 2014, South Florida Sun Sentinel). Although most of the revenue came from casino gambling, it is very apparent the Tribe could see that diversifying their business interests was an important step to take, especially after the recession of the previous decade.
But, they did not shy away from tourism! If anything, the Seminole Tribe of Florida further leaned into tourism following the 2008 recession. Seminole tourism had been the bread-and-butter of the last century; why not now? But, to stay relevant, Seminole tourism pivoted hard with the times. The old ways of billboard advertising were out, and social media was in. Former Director of Florida Seminole Tourism Brian Zepeda quipped that “Instead of $70,000 on a billboard, we spend it on Facebook. We do Groupon now, we do all kinds of things” (25 April 2011, Miami Herald).
Billie Swamp Safari was even the focus of Swamp Men, a Nat Geo reality show. The 2010s had lofty goals. They operated with the direct intention of pivoting with the times to continue drawing visitors to the Seminole Tribe of Florida and Seminole tourism. This would turn out to be incredibly savvy, as the world would soon change forever with the Covid-19 pandemic.
Miss Indian World 2019
At the end of the decade, the Seminole Tribe was able to celebrate a huge milestone. For the first time ever, a Seminole Tribe of Florida Tribal Member won Miss Indian World. Cheyenne Kippenberger, who is from the Hollywood reservation, became the 36th Miss Indian World on April 27th, 2019. The Gathering of Nations has hosted the pageant annually since 1984. It is the largest Native American pow-wow in the world. In a Seminole Tribune article reporting on her win, Kippenberger stated “I’m so proud to be Seminole and to have my community behind me in support. I promise to hold this title proudly and represent my people and all Indigenous People honorably.” Below, you can see an image of Kippenberger during her talent portion of the pageant. She is in the middle of a traditional Seminole hair demonstration and is wearing Seminole patchwork as part of her regalia.
Who is Miss Indian World?
The Miss Indian World title comes with a lot of responsibility. The largest and most prestigious cultural title for young Indigenous women, the elected Miss Indian World is the “Cultural Goodwill Ambassador to all cultures presenting and representing Native American, Indigenous & First Nations Tribal Cultures.” Not only are they expected to be well versed in their own culture, but also represent Native Americans as a whole. Winners “are expected to show poise, pride and positivity, and work to keep the diverse cultures of Native Peoples alive and thriving.”
While reflecting on her two-year reign, Kippenberger stated in a Seminole Tribune interview that: “Going from being Miss Florida Seminole to Miss Indian World made me look at the bigger picture. Our communities all experience similar things around the country and the world. There is so much power in our people uniting, empowering each other, connecting and uplifting voices. I let my platform be utilized for all good things.”
Below, you can see an official portrait of Kippenberger via the Gathering of Nations. The Gathering of Nations asked Kippenberger to reign an additional year as Miss Indian World due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. Kippenberger graciously accepted.
From Miss Florida Seminole to Miss Indian World
Cheyenne Kippenberger being crowned Miss Indian World builds on decades of proud Seminole princesses and pageant winners. Being a Seminole princess brings with it a host of responsibilities, including representing the Seminole Tribe of Florida at a variety of functions and outreach events. The Miss Florida Seminole pageant, held annually, has been selecting Seminole Princesses since the 1960s. But, it didn’t start out as a pageant!
Soon after federal recognition, Tribal leaders determined that they wanted someone to represent the Tribe and attend functions. Wanda Bowers (Miss Florida Seminole ’68 and ’69), spoke about the origin of the title with NPR, telling of a young secretary who travelled with Tribal leaders to Washington D.C. “They’d ask, ‘Is she your princess?’,” says Bowers. “She would always say ‘I’m the secretary-treasurer of the tribe. I’m their translator, their note-taker’ Finally she told the chief, ‘I’m not gonna be recognized as the princess anymore. I want you to start a princess contest so that we can have an official princess to be recognized as our ambassador.”
They soon selected the first Miss Florida Seminole, Connie Gowan, in 1957. Above, Gowan smiles during her reign. The pageant competition for Miss Florida Seminole began in the 1960s. Today, it is an important cultural competition for young Seminole girls and women. They strive to represent their community, culture, and way of life through the title. Seminole patchwork, beadwork, and other cultural crafts are an important aspect of the Miss Florida Seminole competition. In 2021, Florida State University invited Gowan to crown the Homecoming Court. In a Seminole Tribune article about the event, she reminisced about being selected as the first Miss Florida Seminole, saying “I’ve always tried to participate and help where I can.”
The Legacy of Seminole Princesses
The Miss Florida Seminole and Junior Miss Florida Seminole titles have long been a point of pride for the Seminole Tribe. In addition to being a representative of the Tribe, many Seminole princesses work to make an impact on their community during their reign and beyond. During her time as Miss Florida Seminole 2018, Kippenberger organized a successful holiday toy drive. During her reign as Miss Indian World, she also spoke about Native youth and mental health. In 2022, Kippenberger received the Junior Chamber International (JCI) “Cactus” Jack Sewell Memorial Award for “Outstanding Young Floridian.” Durante Blais-Billie, Miss Florida Seminole 2019, attended the United Nations Climate Change Conference in 2022. She is also former assistant director of the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum, and is an advocate for the Indigenous LGBTQ+ community.
Many others are leaders in the community, such as Tribal Historic Preservation Office Director Tina Osceola (Miss Florida Seminole 1986). At the Miss Florida Seminole 2019 crowning, Osceola noted that these women would be the future of the Seminole Tribe. “We’re going to clap and we are going to celebrate 14 Seminole women who are going to be the leaders of our future,” Osceola stated “They’re going to be the moms, and the grandmas, and the aunties, and the Tribal Councilmen, and maybe another female chairperson.”
Learn more about where former Seminole princesses are now here!
Interested in the rest of our Decades of Seminole Tourism series? Check out previous blog posts on the 1900s, 1910s Part 1, 1910s Part 2, 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s.
Originally from Washington state, Deanna Butler received her BA in Archaeological Sciences from the University of Washington in 2014. Deanna moved to South Florida in 2016. Soon, she began working for the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s Tribal Historic Preservation Office. Deanna was the THPO’s Archaeological Collections Assistant from 2017-2021. While at the THPO, Deanna worked to preserve, support, and process the Tribe’s archaeological collection. She often wrote the popular Artifact of the Month series, and worked on many community and educational outreach programs. She lives in Fort Myers, FL with her husband, son, and dog.