The Miccosukee Tribe of Indians is a federally recognized tribe, approved by the Secretary of the Interior under the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. The Miccosukee did not originally live in the Everglades, they were moved there after the arrival of Spanish settlers. They are currently in a court battle against the EPA in an attempt to increase the quality of water entering the Everglades near their reservation.
A. Who are the Miccosukee?
The Miccosukee Tribe is related to the Seminole Tribe. These tribes did not originally reside in Florida when the earliest Spanish settlers arrived. The growing number of Europeans along with their missionary activities, diseases, the slave trade and wars resulted in the deaths of many of the Indians. In the ensuing years, the remaining members of the tribes moved into the parts of Florida that were formally occupied by aboriginal tribes, which was a buffer between the Spanish Territory and the English to the North.
B. Their History in Florida
Three wars occurred between the Seminole Nation and the United States over the acquisition of Florida. The first war started in 1817 when the U.S. tried to remove the tribe from Florida to lands west of the Mississippi. In 1821, the U.S. annexed Florida and the government tried again to relocate the Seminoles to Oklahoma. Treaties were signed agreeing to this relocation, but they were broken leading to the Second Seminole War (1835-1842) and eventually the Third Seminole War (1855-1858).
By 1859 most of the Indians had relocated to Oklahoma. A few refused to be moved and retreated to the Everglades. They remained relatively undisturbed until the early 20th century. At this time the U.S. government established a reservation in Florida. In 1934 when Everglades National Park was established this further preserved the rights of the Seminole and Miccosukee Tribes. As long as these rights did not conflict with the purposes for which the park was created.
"Between 1870 and 1914, the Miccosukees and Seminoles used the Everglades land for intensive hunting, trapping, and trading." (Interior) This all changed with the population explosion of the 1920s. Improved transportation along the East Coast of the United States allowed for easier travel. Travel along the coast became faster and less expensive enabling more people to enjoy Florida on a vacation as well as a place to live. Some areas of the Everglades were drained and farmed as a result. The Miccosukees and Seminoles close ties to the Everglades and its alteration resulted in nontraditional practices by the tribes, such as cattle herding, changes in schooling and religion.
The Eisenhower Administration of the 1950s instituted a policy of termination status of Indians. Faced with termination the Seminole Tribe drafted a constitution and charter and voted to formally organize as the Seminole Tribe of Florida. "In 1957, the Seminole Tribe of Florida became a federally recognized tribe and reorganized itself under a constitution according to the terms of the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934." (Interior) Not all Florida Indians recognized this constitution. Some Indians formed their own bands and secluded themselves in the Everglades and refused to move to the reservations. "In 1961, the Bureau of Indian Affairs worked in coordination with this group in obtaining federal recognition as a tribal entity, separate and independent from the Seminole Tribe." (Interior) In 1962, a portion of these bands formed the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida and was officially recognized by the federal government.
II. The life of the Miccosukee
A. Present Day
Currently, the Seminole and Miccosukee live within several reservations in South Florida. "Two of these reservations, the Big Cypress Indian Reservation and the Miccosukee Indian Reservation, are just south of the Everglades Agricultural Area, with the Big Cypress Reservation sharing a border with the Everglades Agricultural Area. The tribes are self-sufficient and self-governed." (Interior)
On the reservations high-stakes bingo and other gambling create revenue for the tribes. "The Miccosukees have economic goals based on sustainable use of reservation land, which would include agricultural, aquacultural, and livestock businesses. Tourism, cultural exhibits, and arts-and-crafts sales also provide economic benefits as well as educational opportunities." (Interior)
B. Close Connection to the Everglades
"Traditional Seminole cultural, religious, and recreational activities, as well as commercial endeavors, are dependent on a healthy Everglades ecosystem." (Land) The Indians close connection to the Everglades is evident in that when the draining of portions of the Everglades began the practices of the tribe altered. They are taught to live off the land, but to respect it as well. Their traditions and livelihood are intertwined with the land to a degree that most decedents of European settlers may not understand. (Pittman)
III. Battle with the State of Florida and the EPA
A. Water Quality Issues in the Everglades
The tribe filed a lawsuit over 10 years ago challenging the water quality standards in the delicate marshland. They say they are caught in the middle. Their land is caught between protected agriculture land and Everglades National Park; the agriculture land is releasing high phosphorus-laden water into the marshland. This water is then making its way through the tribal lands creating serious problems for the Miccosukee.
"Former U.S. Attorney Dexter Lehtinen sued the state in 1988, claiming it was not adhering to its own regulations for clean water. That lawsuit was settled in 1991 in a deal, which laid out a plan to clean up the Everglades by 2002. However, the state Legislature passed the Everglades Forever Act in 1994, which altered the dates of the restoration and some of the standards. It also does not provide for the elimination of pollution from the western basin, an area of the Miccosukee Reservation. The tribe claims the area would have been cleaned under the original settlement." (Testa) The tribe wants the state to comply with the original timetable to restore the Everglades.
B. What the Miccosukee want done to preserve their Land
The tribes have set up their own environmental projects to help protect and preserve the Everglades. These projects are designed "to protect the land and water systems within the Reservation while ensuring a sustainable economic and cultural future for the Tribe". (Land) In November 1989, the Seminole Tribal Council created the Seminole Water Commission to oversee the Water Resource Management Department (WRMD). "The WRMD's mission is to protect and evaluate the Tribe's land and water resources and to facilitate the wise use and conservation of these resources by other departments." (Water) The Tribal Environmental Programs include: authority to implement the Clean Water Act within the Tribe's jurisdiction, spill prevention plans for above ground storage tanks and removal programs for underground storage tank facilities, participate in task forces to restore the South Florida ecosystem. (Land)
While visiting the Everglades National Park Welcome Center I saw a display that showed the individuals and organizations involved in the water dispute. The Miccosukee were not included in the display. The park ranger, the state and local governments, and visitors to the park but not the Miccosukee even though they are directly effected by the quality of water entering the Everglades. The Miccosukee are a powerful lobbying group and government agencies and officials are beginning to realize this. Greater steps have to be made though. The different interested parties could learn a great deal from each other for the good of the Everglades
Pittman, Craig. "They Call It Home." Floridian, February 16, 1999.
Seminole Tribe of Florida. "Seminoles and the Land." www.seminoletribe.com/culture/seminole_land.shtml (Land)
Seminole Tribe of Florida. "Seminole Tribe of Florida Water Resource Management Department." www.seminoletribe.com/services/water.shtml (Water)
Testa, Karen. "Miccosukee Chairman asks Judge to Protect Tribal Lands." Naples Daily News, January 15, 1999.
United States Department of the Interior. Land Acquistion Programmatic Environmental Assessment. Everglades Agricultural Area, Florida. Appendix A: The Miccosukees and Seminoles. July 1997. www.nps.gov/htdocs2/planning/ (Interior)
West, Patsy. The Enduring Seminoles: From Alligator Wrestling to Ecotourism. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1998.
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