The chickee is a dwelling structure invented by the Seminole people in south Florida, and can be found today at the Big Cypress Seminole reservation, as water access campsites at the near by Everglades State Park, and even in suburban back yards. The stilted open-air structure moves through history as a quiet witness to the shifts of modernity. The building and its design were shaped entirely by war, landscape, and capitalism. The structure was invented by the small group of Seminoles who survived military attacks and refused deportation to Oklahoma. As the remaining members of the tribe were hunted through the Florida Everglades during the third Seminole War of the 19th century, they invented a new improvisational structure that could stand above the swamp waters that was easily assembled and disassembled.
Originally, Seminoles lived in log cabins that looked like most other log cabins. After the war the Seminoles moved onto dry land and brought the chickee with them.The Seminoles established the Big Cypress reservation in the Everglades, swamp land that was deemed worthless by the US government. No longer considered enemies of the state, the Seminoles were now participating in the U.S. economy. Their land was unusable for agriculture and their only commodifiable assets were their own identities. The reservation site became a tourist attraction where visitors would watch as the members performed their daily activities inside the stage of chickee.
The structure is reinvented over and over, persisting through time, while also passing under the radar compared to its Polynesian doppelgänger, the tiki hut. Fast forward a century and this structure appears again in a new context. Tucked into the mangroves and marshes of South Florida’s Everglades National Park are free standing, water accessible only campsites, inviting visitors to a war time reenactment vacation. The sites resemble the original Seminole made building only in their function. They are simple stilted open-air structures made from wood with a roof. Simultaneously, these structures are offered for a private setting, as Seminole construction companies are custom building chickees in suburban backyards of south Florida. This time the structure is familiar in aesthetic only, made from the same traditional materials used during the Seminole Wars, but only as covered shelters for your outdoor bar and barbeque.