Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Seminole House: The Chickee


As reported in The Orlando Sentinel, "Seminoles Build Profits With Chickee Heritage, by Michael Lafferty, on 18 July 1987  --  COCOA — Seminole Indian Joe Doctor has taken a piece of his heritage and turned it into a thriving business.

Doctor owns a Fort Lauderdale company that builds chickees, a simple, open shelter made from cypress and palm fronds that Seminole Indians used as dwellings for more than 100 years.

These days, chickees usually are found on sandy beaches at resorts, beside pools, at golf courses or in the back yards of homes.


Visitors to the Florida Keys might have watched a sunset while under a chickee at one of the islands' waterside ''tiki bars.''

Four chickees costing $10,500 are being built on the Cocoa campus of Brevard Community Collegeat the edge of Clear Lake near the student center. The structures, framed with cypress poles and roofed with about 8,000 palm fronds, should be completed this weekend.

Patrick Smith, director of college relations for BCC and author of several novels focusing on Seminole Indians, said the chickees will serve a dual purpose as shelters for picnic tables and for a Seminole festival the college plans to hold in October.


''This way anyone who wants to see what one looks like can come here,'' Smith said. ''This will be a typical Seminole village.''

Motioning toward one chickee, Bryan Cohen, a consultant to the Seminoles, said, ''That'll be here longer than you and I put together. The good thing about it is nobody else knows how to make them.''

Though declining to disclose sales figures for Big Cypress Chickee Builders, Cohen said it is a profitable business. At $8 a square foot, a 10- by-10 chickee would cost $800, he said. At BCC, the company is building three chickees that are 12 by 20 feet and one that is 26 by 30 feet.

Doctor incorporated the business about three years ago and said he has as much work as he can handle.


The business originally belonged to James Billie, now chairman of the Seminole Indian tribe. Doctor, Billie's cousin, took over the business after Billie became involved in tribal politics.

Big Cypress Chickee Builders has built hundreds of chickees, which means ''house'' in Seminole, most of them in South Florida, Cohen said. Earlier this year the Seminoles traveled to Osceola County to build a village for the county's centennial celebration. Later this year the company will build chickees on Bimini at the resort former presidential candidate Gary Hart visited during his famous trip with Donna Rice, Doctor said.


Doctor said he has no qualms about making money from a part of his heritage, asking, ''Isn't it kind of like buying a pizza from Italians?''

Smith, an expert on Seminole history, said chickees were first used about 130 years ago during the Seminole Indian wars when the Indians needed a shelter they could build quickly.

''We were getting chased around then,'' said Doctor.

Seminoles continued to live in chickees until several decades ago, when they began moving into cinderblock houses. Still, said Doctor's wife and partner, Jane, many Seminole homes have a chickee in the yard and families spend as much time there as in the house.


''You can go to a lot of houses and see most of their possessions outside in the chickee,'' said Jane Doctor, a Creek Indian.

But besides making money, the chickee construction business also passes on to young Seminoles a part of their heritage, Cohen said.

Doctor hires mostly young Indians who live on reservations in South Florida.

''Eventually, if they don't build these, it's an art that's going to die,'' Cohen said. (source: The Orlando Sentinel)



The chickee (from the Seminole word for "house") was developed during the early 1800s when the Seminoles were pursued by U.S. troops. The palmetto thatched roof on a frame of cypress logs met the Seminole's need for a fast, disposable shelter while on the run.

1 comment:

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