Seminole Tribe of Florida
Seminoles cooking sugarcane syrup, 1941
|2,000 enrolled members (1990s)|
|Regions with significant populations|
|Florida ( United States)|
|English, Miccosukee, Creek|
|Christianity, traditional tribal religion|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Seminole Nation of Oklahoma, Miccosukee, Muscogee people (Creek)|
The Seminole Tribe of Florida is a federally recognized Seminole tribe based in the U.S. state of Florida. Together with the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma and the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida, it is one of three federally recognized Seminole entities. It received that status in 1957. It has six Indian reservations in Florida.
Since 1975, when it established tax-free smoke shops and a high-stakes bingo operation that became the first tribal gaming in the United States, the tribe has generated greater revenues from gaming for education, welfare and economic development. A 2005 tribal audit said it took in $1.1 billion in revenues that year. The tribe requires members to have at least one-quarter Seminole blood quantum.
The Seminole emerged in a process of ethnogenesis from various Native American groups who settled in Florida in the 18th century, most significantly Creeks from what is now Georgia and Alabama. These settlers distanced themselves increasingly from other Creek groups, and expanded and prospered owing to their thriving trade network during Florida's British and second Spanish periods (c. 1767–1821). During this period, they developed alliances with African-American maroons, mostly fugitive slaves from the South's Low Country and some free blacks from the Spanish period of rule. These people became known as Black Seminoles, establishing towns near Indian settlements.
During the Seminole Wars against the United States in the 19th century, however, particularly after the second war, most Seminole and Black Seminole were forced by the US to relocate west of the Mississippi River to Indian Territory. A smaller group – possibly fewer than 200 – refused to leave Florida and moved deep into the Everglades, where they resisted US forces and were never defeated. They fostered a culture of staunch independence. The modern Florida Seminole, Miccosukee and Traditionals descend from these survivors.
The Florida Seminole re-established limited relations with the United States and Florida governments in the late 19th century, and by the early 20th century were concentrated in five camps in the Everglades. The portion who spoke more Muskogee consolidated in the northern part of the Everglades near the Cow Creek Camp, becoming known as the Cow Creek Seminole. The Miccosukee, who spoke the Mikasuki language, were located to the south, in an area cut through by completion of the Tamiami Trail in 1928.
The Cow Creek Seminole eventually received 5,000 acres (20 km2) of reservation land in the 1930s, beginning with Brighton Reservation. At first, few Seminoles had any interest in relocating to reservations, preferring their traditional lifestyle to a more sedentary reservation life. Following the efforts of Creek Christian missionaries, more Seminole moved to reservations in the 1940s to form their own churches. Other factors in the move include Florida's drainage of the wetlands and shift toward wide-scale agriculture. This contributed to the depletion of game and other resources by the state's expanding population, reducing the tribal people's ability to live in traditional ways.
In 1953, the Seminole were informed they were on the Congressional list for termination of their tribal status and federal benefits, under the federal government's program to reduce costs and determination that some tribes no longer needed any special relationship. Termination would result in their eviction from the three reservations of the time. Few of the Seminole had even graduated from high school, and they worried about being able to organize as a tribe in order to deal with the government.
Another problem was that the federal government persisted in classifying all the 918 Native Americans in the agency area as Seminole, although the 305 Miccosukee and Traditionals closer to the Tamiami Trail did not identify with the reservation Seminole, a position they had asserted since the 1920s. The Seminole appealed to have federal supervision continued so they could better prepare to manage their affairs.
The superintendent of the Seminole Agency in Florida asked tribal leaders to elect representatives from the reservations to have people at hearings: Dania (now Hollywood) was represented by Sam Tommie and Laura Mae Osceola; Brighton by Billy Osceola and Toby Johns; Big Cypress by Josie Billie and Jimmie Cypress; and the Trail people by Henry Cypress and Curtis Osceola as the founding representatives. Creek and Mikasuki language interpreters were appointed. Although the Traditionals or Trail people wanted to continue with their Tribal Council, the Seminoles continued to develop an alternative form of government.
They went to Washington to testify to Congress, and solicited help from the women's groups who had formed to help the Seminole, such as The Friends of the Seminoles Florida Foundation, Inc., the Seminole Indian Association, Indian Welfare, and the Florida Federation of Women's Clubs. Their officers also testified for the Seminole. The women had developed organizations to aid the Seminole; for instance, they helped support children to go to boarding schools, lobbied to get Seminole admitted to local public schools, which were racially segregated in a binary way, and loaned money to men trying to buy homes.
The Seminole consulted with other tribes and experts to help them develop their government structure, and wrote a constitution and corporate charter, modeled on the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. The vote was opened in 1957 to the 448 reservation Seminole and any Trail Indians who wanted to participate; the Seminole approved the constitution and corporate charter on August 21, 1957. The Seminole Tribe of Florida received federal recognition later that year.
This process had heightened the differences among the groups. The Trail peoples, who were Mikasuki-language speakers, formed their own government, receiving state recognition in 1957 and federal recognition as the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida in 1962. Some Traditionals refused to affiliate with either tribe, not wanting relations with the federal government. The Miccosukee had reservation land taken into trust for them by the federal government. In addition, the two tribes made a long-term lease arrangement in 1983 with the state of Florida for access and use of nearly 200,000 acres of wetlands.
Government and economy
The Seminole Tribe of Florida is led by an elected tribal council comprising representatives from each of its reservations. It elects a chairman and vice-chairman as leaders. The tribal headquarters is at Hollywood, Florida.
In 1975 Howard Tommie was re-elected as chairman to a second term by a wide margin. He led the Tribe through 1979 in a number of important initiatives that created a new direction for the people, with assertion of sovereignty, significant revenue generation, and accelerated economic development. He urged acceptance of the US land claims settlement in 1976; the Florida and Oklahoma Seminole negotiated for more than a decade before reaching their final agreement in 1990 as to distribution of trust funds. He initiated negotiations with the state of Florida over water rights at the Seminole reservations, winning legal standing and protecting their resources.
Learning from operations on the Colville reservation in Washington state, Tommie directed the establishment of a tax-free cigarette shop on the Hollywood Reservation, where the tribe started to generate more substantial income. Next they pursued a high-stakes bingo operation on their reservation, which also started to generate substantial revenues.
The current Chairman is Chief Jim Billie, who was re-elected in 2011 with 58.4 percent of the votes, after previously serving from 1979 to 2001. He led the tribe through a dramatic expansion of operations, with development of new programs and facilities as it invested the revenues generated from gaming and related entertainment. The 1979 plan for high-stakes bingo survived court challenges, and the first major Indian gaming establishment in the United States was opened in 1981 by the Seminole. Subsequent changes in federal and state laws have paved the way for dozens of other tribes to increase their revenues through development of gambling casinos, resorts and related hotels and retails shops. All generate revenue as well for the states in which they are located, under compacts regulated by the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988.
The Seminole tribe has six reservations. They have developed more extensive hotels and related resorts for gaming on some of their reservations. Since 2007, the Tribe has owned the Hard Rock Cafe franchise, and established it in their hotels and casinos. They now have a total of seven casinos. Tourism, both as related to the casinos and in terms of attracting people to the reservations for hunting, fishing, and guided tours, is also a part of their economy.
Other significant parts of their economy are based on production of the citrus groves and cattle farming on the Brighton and Big Cypress reservations, and forestry. Beginning with a small group of cattle brought from the West in the 1930s, the Seminole Tribe has developed the 12th-largest cattle operation in the country. It is located primarily on the Big Cypress and Brighton reservations. In a related development, since 2008 the Seminole Tribe has marketed its beef under the brand, Seminole Beef. They are featuring it in their Hard Rock Cafe and hotels, and intend to market it to other Indian tribes, military installations, restaurants and supermarkets throughout the country.
According to a tribal audit, in 2005 the tribe took in $1.1 billion in revenue. They pay a dividend to tribal members on a monthly basis from a portion of the income to the tribe. In February 2012, the Tampa Bay Times reported that the Seminole Tribe employed a total of 12,000 people at its headquarters and six casino operations.
In the early part of the 20th century, the Seminole were still mostly full bloods and had prohibitions against members going outside the tribe for marriage partners. In a 1999 interview, Betty Mae Tiger Jumper, chairwoman of the Tribe from 1967-1971, said that in the late 1920s, Seminole medicine men had threatened to kill her and her brother, then young children, because they were half-breeds with a white father. She learned that other half-breeds had been killed. Her great uncle moved her family to the Dania reservation for safety.
Similarly, Jim Billie, the current chairman, who also had a white father, recounted that, as an infant, he was threatened in 1944 by tribal men because he was a half-breed; his mother and Betty Mae Tiger, then a young woman, saved his life.
The tribe has become more open to intermarriage. It also permits non-tribal spouses (including white or black) to live on the reservations, unlike in earlier times. It requires tribal members to have a documented blood quantum of at least one-quarter Seminole ancestry.
As of 2000 there were around 2,000 enrolled members in the tribe, with over 1,300 living on the reservations. The Tribe includes some Black Seminoles, including 50 living on Fort Pierce Reservation.
- Big Cypress Reservation, the largest territory, including 81.972 sq mi (212.306 km²)
- Brighton Reservation, 57.090 sq mi (147.862 km²)
- Hollywood Reservation, 497 acres (2.01 km2) acres
- Immokalee Reservation
- Tampa Reservation
- Fort Pierce Reservation, a 50 acres (0.20 km2) site in St. Lucie County, taken into trust for the tribe in 1995 by the U.S. Department of Interior. The tribe has constructed a modern housing development, known as Chupco's Landing, and a community center for members.
Land claims suits
By 1961, the Florida Seminole filed suit against the federal government for land claims related to what they had ceded under the 1823 Treaty of Moultrie Creek, when the Seminole were forced onto a reservation in the center of Florida. The Oklahoma Seminole also filed a claim.
Before reaching settlement in 1976, the Indian Claims Commission combined these claims, saying the Seminole had lost 24 million acres, for which it awarded a total settlement of $16 million. By that time the descendants were represented by the federally recognized Seminole Tribe of Florida, the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma, and the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida; the unorganized Traditionals in Florida had separate legal representation. The Oklahoma and Florida groups had to negotiate as to how the settlement would be apportioned, leading to the most contact among them in a century. The money was put in trust and earning interest during these years.
In 1990, the groups finally agreed to the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma receiving three-quarters of the settlement, based on early population records from 1906-1914, when members had blood quantum; and the Florida Seminole in total to receive one-quarter, based on reconstructed early 20th-century censuses. At the time of the settlement, the two Florida tribes and Traditionals had a higher percentage of full-bloods due to their endogamous marriage practices; they also had blood quantum requirements for tribal membership. By 1990, the total value of the trust had reached $46 million.
Most members of the Tribe are bilingual, speaking the Mikasuki language (which is also spoken by the Miccosukee Tribe) and English. In the 1970s, all the members of Big Cypress Reservation still spoke Mikasuki, and most of the Seminole spoke it. The Creek language is spoken by some Florida Seminole, especially those living on Brighton Reservation. Use of both Muskogean languages has declined among younger people.
In addition, they have created some new celebrations: the Big Shootout at Big Cypress, celebrated since 1997. A few years ago, they added an historical re-enactment to the annual Big Shootout, in which re-enactors take the part of Seminole, Black Seminole and US forces.
In 1956, Betty Mae Tiger Jumper (later to be elected as Chairwoman of the tribe) and Alice Osceola established the first tribal newspaper, the Seminole News, which sold for 10 cents a copy. It was dropped after a while, but in 1972 the Alligator Times was established. In 1982 it was renamed the Seminole Tribune, as it continues today. Betty Mae Tiger Jumper became the editor-in-chief; as the tribal storyteller, she contributed traditional stories and articles about Seminole culture. In 1989, the monthly Seminole Tribune was the first Native American newspaper to win a Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award. That year, it was also nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. A member of the Native American Journalists Association, in 1997 it earned five awards from that organization.
Florida State University
Florida State University in Tallahassee uses the Seminole name and imagery for its athletics programs, the Florida State Seminoles. The name was adopted in 1947 after a fan vote; reportedly the new college football team preferred it so much that they stuffed the ballot box in its favor. Since 1978, a student portraying Osceola has been the official mascot at football games; previously more cartoonish Indian-themed mascots were used.
In the 1980s and 1990s, when mascots based on Native Americans became more controversial and many Native Americans and supporters protested their use, Florida State consulted with the Seminole Tribe of Florida, emphasizing that their use of the names and the Osceola mascot were not intended to be demeaning. Several representatives of the Seminole Tribe, including Chairman James E. Billie and Council Member Max Osceola, have given FSU their blessing to use Osceola and Seminole imagery. However, the matter remains controversial for other Florida Seminoles, as well as members of the Seminole Tribe of Oklahoma. In 2005, FSU was among the schools potentially facing NCAA sanctions for using "hostile and abusive" Indian mascots and names; after much deliberation, the NCAA gave FSU an exemption, citing the university's relationship with the Seminole Tribe of Florida as a major factor.
Notable Florida Seminole
- Abiaka (Sam Jones), medicine man during the period of the Seminole Wars
- Jim Billie, Chairman of Seminole Tribe from 1979-2001, during expansion of Indian gaming and increase in tribal wealth and economic development; re-elected in 2011
- Betty Mae Tiger Jumper, first and only chairwoman of the tribe (1967-1971), editor-in-chief of the Seminole Tribune, Communication Director of the tribe, and last matriarch of the Snake clan. Spoke Muskogee, Mikasuki, and English.
- Osceola (William Powell), war chief during the Seminole Wars
- Micanopy, principal chief of Seminole from 1825 through the Second Seminole War and Removal, until his death in 1849 in Indian Territory
- Jim Shore, first Florida Seminole to become a lawyer, now General Counsel of the Tribe, took a major role in land claims negotiations in the late 20th century
- Howard Tommie (b. 28 May 1938), political leader and two-term chairman of Tribal Council who initiated programs in the 1970s, including accepting the US land claim settlement; successful negotiation with Florida for water rights for the Seminole reservations, and establishment of tax-free smoke shops and high-stakes bingo as revenue generators. Speaks Muskogee, Mikasuki, and English.
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