The land we are on | FIU News

More than a dozen Native American tribes at one point called the Florida peninsula home. After centuries of colonization, assimilation and annihilation, now only two federally recognized tribes remain in South Florida, the Seminole Tribe of Florida and the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida.

At the Global Indigenous Forum (GIF) in the Green School International and Public Affairsdirector Mitzi Carter (she/her) and her team have been working to bring more awareness of Florida’s indigenous history.

“Miami is on land that has been respected and cherished by Native peoples for more than 10,000 years and they continue to cherish it today,” she explained.

Though the Miccosukee Reservation is currently within the Everglades and the Seminole Reservation is in Hollywood, in reality, South Florida — and to a broader extent all of Florida — is on Miccosukee and Seminole land. Before colonization, the land Miccosukee and Seminole tribes cared for extended beyond what is now Florida’s border. Consequently, the lands designated for FIU by the State of Florida are located on the ancestral homelands of the Miccosukee and Seminole tribes and those who came before them. These lands were forcibly taken from the native peoples of Florida by European colonizers and the federal government between the 15th and 19th centuries.

Reverend Houston R. Cypress (they/them), a member of the Otter Clan, the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida, and GIF’s advisory council describes the history of their community as “one of war, displacement, conflict and self-imposed isolation as a survival strategy. Over the past couple hundred years, my ancestors have been escaping a war of annihilation inflicted by the United States of America and other European colonizers.”

The displacement of the native tribes of Florida started in the 15th century with the arrival of the Spanish colonizers, who seized the Florida Peninsula and remained in brutal conflict with local tribes for over three centuries until finally selling Florida to the newly founded United States of America in 1821.

In an effort to expand the nascent country, the United States implemented the Indian Removal Act of 1830. This new law legitimized decades of genocide, enslavement and assimilation by allowing the federal government to invade and sixteen tribal lands. Many tribes across the eastern United States were forcibly relocated to the West through a deadly journey known as the Trail of Tears.

During the mid-1800s, most of Florida’s native peoples were murdered, assimilated or displaced because of the United States expansion. Many of them were forced into the Trail of Tears. However, a small portion resisted subjugation and retreated to the Everglades, where the vastness of the wilderness served as a safe haven. They managed to hide until the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 officially recognized the rights of native peoples. Eventually, the descendants of the survivors founded the Seminole and Miccosukee Tribes that we know today.

“Indigenous communities locally and nationally are often rendered invisible due to the legacies of violence. Through recognition and action, we can truly understand the harm that has been done and create better ways to heal,” said Carter.

“Our community is still trying to heal from this trauma and recover the losses we have endured over centuries. By staying true to our roots and practices, we continue this healing process,” Cypress said. “That said, keeping our way of life is challenging when the world around us is changing. The need for reconciliation is urgent for us to move forward together,” they underscored.

In 2009, the United States officially apologized to Indigenous peoples through the Native American Apology Resolution. Reverend Cypress says this was a milestone toward the reconciliation between tribal and non-tribal communities.

“Reconciliation will help alleviate the historical and generational traumas that are present in our communities, not just Indigenous communities, for all marginalized communities who have suffered injustice,” they said.

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Mitzi Carter acknowledging Florida’s Native Tribes as the stewards of the land at the Juneteenth Opening Ceremony.

By acknowledging the Tequesta, the Calusa, and today, the Seminole Tribe of Florida, and the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida as the traditional stewards of this land, we offer recognition and respect, an important step in repairing relationships with Native communities. It is our responsibility to uphold knowledge about the original stewards of this land that we live, learn, and work on. We encourage our university community to learn ways to support our local Indigenous communities in their efforts to preserve Seminole and Miccosukee land and water rights, cultural practices and the environment,” Carter said.

It is important to note that Cypress emphasized that the tribes refer to themselves as “stewards of the land.”

“Our relationship with the land is one of stewardship. This goes back to our teachings of how the universe was created and the duties my people were honored to be given, like taking care of the earth and its different species. Our spiritual and cultural beliefs say that no one can own the land. We are here to take care of it,” they added.

Through the nonprofit Love The Everglades Movement (@love_the_everglades), Cypress encourages South Florida residents to get engaged and support the local tribal communities.

“Both tribes host festivals and events to showcase our cultures. Please support these efforts and take advantage of them to learn more about Florida’s tribal history and community. Get to know your neighbors. Visit and listen deeply!” they said.

To commemorate Indigenous Peoples’ Day, the GIF and the Division of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion will host a celebration on Oct. 10, from 10-11 am, in the GC Pit, featuring Ric Babcock, chair of the GIF’s Council of Elders (Cherokee); Samuel Tommie, Indigenous artist from the Everglades (Seminole); and a ceremonial dance by Tonalxochitl Danza Conchera.

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