The Everglades National Park
FIU IDH 4007

Proud Miccosukees

Alberto Pisani
IDH 4007
Fall Semester 2005

   Before hearing an anthropology professor give a brief overview of the indigenous people of South Florida I had no idea to what extent the culture of the two remaining tribes, the Seminoles and the Miccosukees, had been preserved. I always assumed that all Indian tribes in the United States had been assimilated into western culture and that their customs, religion, and language had mostly died out if not for the few words and ceremonies used as tourist attractions. I was highly surprised when I found out that the Miccosukees not only still practice their religion, but they do not allow outsiders into their ceremonies (except for limited access to few) and they still teach their language and customs in their schools. In fact, the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians is actually independent of the United States and the land they live on belongs to them. As is proudly noted on their main web page, they are completely self-sufficient. Another shocking fact is that they are the only Indians that have never signed a peace treaty with the United States, proving that these people have great values and have not been coerced into any compromises.

   As an immigrant to the United States myself, I've always believed that it is very important for foreigners to maintain their culture, customs, and language within their community. I'm always very much disappointed when I meet Italian-Americans - just two, sometimes even one generation removed from Italy - who no longer speak Italian and know very little about Italian culture. Not that integrating into American culture is bad, but to lose touch with one's origins so quickly is always a shame. As the generations pass, immigrant groups get integrated into the American lifestyle and often forget everything about their home countries other than the fact that it is their heritage. For the Miccosukees to have been living among Westerners and to not have been integrated (maintaining their native language) is a very positive feat which is seldom accomplished by immigrant groups for such long periods of time (perhaps the Cuban-American community has done a similar job in South Florida, but they have not been on US land for nearly as long). To be fair, the Miccosukees have been mostly isolated until the completion of the Tamiami Trail. The lands they live on have never been appealing to anyone (it is a swamp!) so for the most part they have been left alone by the greater powers. Still, the lands have now been exposed to Western culture and they have maintainedtheir heritage for many years.

   The most interesting bit about the Indian discussion was when our guest anthropology professor talked about them never signing a treaty with the US. Apparently, when Reagan was president he noticed this peculiar fact and decided he was going to take their land away from them. This obviously stirred up an uproar and never happened, but the US government still would not recognize the Miccosukees as an independent nation, so the Tribe leaders decided they would go to Cuba and get recognition from Castro (who would have been more than happy to give it to them). Anything that would potentially embarrass the US would be embraced by the Cuban regime. To avoid such a scandal the US government gave in and recognized their autonomy. Again, the Miccosukees (and Seminoles - the two tribes are closely related) showed great determination and courage by not giving in to the pressures of the Federal government.

   Also not widely known is that the Miccosukees and Seminoles are closely related. They descend from the same 'federation' (the Creek Indians) but have established themselves separately. It seems that for quite a long time the Miccosukees and Seminoles were not even allowed to inter-marry, but that has changed even though inter-marriage is still rare and if your spouse from the other tribe dies you get kicked out from the tribe (i.e. you are no longer allowed to live among Miccosukees if you are Seminole). This intolerance for cultural mixing (marriages with whites are frowned upon) is what has helped them preserve their heritage, culture, and language and is what surprised me the most. There are many outside pressures that make certain communities (be they immigrants or Native Americans) feel the need to integrate into local customs and language and for a community so small like the Miccosukees to resist these pressures and maintain their heritage is a very admirable feat. In fact I have gained much more interest in the Miccosukees now that I know this and would absolutely love to be able to visit the Indian Village more often (something I would have never thought of before) just to find out more about their customs, history, and heritage first hand.

   In a way the Miccosukees are very much like the Everglades National Park: at first there is no interest in the land because it is inaccessible and swampy, then there is a big push to drain and develop the Everglades, and finally, after they survive the drainage attempts, they are protected and allowed to return to their more natural conditions. The Miccosukees in a very similar way were left alone initially (because they lived in the swamp and there were no interests there), then the Reagan administration tried taking what little of their land was left, and finally now they are recognized as autonomous and allowed to practice their religion and speak their language.

   To conclude, I think it is good to see that the general public has become more accepting of other cultures, for in the past Native Americans were looked down on and practically persecuted, while today in South Florida we allow them to coexist with our society but at the same time maintain their separate and unique way of life. Perhaps this shows that we are moving in the right direction as a society, away from close-mindedness and towards embracing diversity.

   
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