For a state and region so steeped in indigenous history, we must admit that South Floridians don’t have as close a connection with its Native Tribes as we should. As is the case in much of the country, there are too many barriers in place keeping us from actively discovering the true story behind our nation’s history. Keeping us from learning about and connecting with the people who were here first and, despite a harrowing amount to overcome, are still keeping their colorful traditions alive.
Here at Culture Crusaders, while a majority of us are Florida-born and bred, we’re aware that our knowledge of Florida’s tribes and tribal history is severely limited. So, in honor of yesterday’s Indigenous People’s Day (and not that other holiday) we went in search of helpful ways to connect with Florida’s Native Tribes. We know this list is not as long as it could be, so if you have any more ideas or ways we can better connect to our indigenous past, please send our way!
It might seem blatantly obvious to outsiders, but Floridians–especially Miamians–don’t know much about their state’s history and with that, the history of our Native past. Florida’s indigenous population dates back as far as 15,000 years ago. Over time, factors like tribal wars, colonizations, climate change and environmental changes all played key roles in diminishing the Native population and dwindling it down to a few tribes. But still, their significance in shaping our history can still be seen today.
To truly become an ally, we must first educate ourselves. There are thousands of helpful resources online if you’re feeling lazy. But you can also head to places like the HistoryMiami museum and get lost in their thorough archeological breakdown of Florida’s indigenous past. From there, you’ll learn about the tribes that shaped Miami–the Calusa and the Tequesta peoples who, after migrating and assimilating with other tribes, are no longer around today. You can however retrace their steps at key historical landmarks like The Miami Circle, Lummus Park (on the River), The Everglades National Park, and even the Deering Estate.
Growing up in South Florida, I was particularly lucky to have a mother who felt connected with the Native American history of our country and who actively went in search of it in our backyard. Spending time within the reservations is a powerful tool to put everything into perspective and witness what these tribes have had to overcome in preserving their unique traditions and cultures. The Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation has the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum, and the Miccosukee Village boasts a museum, eateries, and boundless entertainment that cues us in on just a fraction of these two tribes’ rich histories.
While both of these destinations are temporarily closed due to COVID-19, be sure to keep updated so you can support once they re-open to the public.
Things might be different right now, but there are still physical things you can look forward to and mark in your calendar. The Seminole Tribe of Florida’s (by the way, the only recognized American Tribe that never signed a peace treaty) biggest yearly celebration is the American Indian Arts Celebration and has been moved to November 5th & 6th 2021. In a normal year, both the Seminole Tribe and the Miccosukee Tribe would be packed with events and gatherings, so for now stay connected through platforms like the Seminole Tribune and the many Miccosukee enterprises across Florida.
As we mentioned, the Miccosukee Indian Arts Festival is a landmark opportunity to experience Native traditions in person and thus, support their many local vendors by purchasing jewelry, clothing, food, and other great goods that goes right back into the success of their local economies. Meanwhile, The Seminole Museum Store is also a great online option if you want to get your hands on things like children’s books, artisanal face masks, tapestries and more. In the meantime, you can follow the Native Reel Cinema Fest which aside from amplifying Native voices through film, is also a great platform for supporting the culture of Indigenous and Native American artists and musicians too.
There’s no denying that the history of Native Tribes on this land is fraught with much pain. Their voices rarely (if ever) are given the chance to be heard, so supporting associations and organizations that make it their goal in leveling the playing field for America’s many tribes is a great way to start. Closer to home, the American Indian Association of Florida holds many meet-ups, lectures, events, and powwows that help enlighten us on their current struggles.
On a larger scale, you can donate to or support national organizations like the Association on American Indian Affairs, Native American Rights Fund, Partnership with Native Americans, American Indigenous Business Leaders, among many others.
Cover photo by miroslav_1/Getty Images via TripSavvy.