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A Trip Across Florida

by Cynthia L. Meskauskas


Daughter: Dad, weíve got a lot of time before your flight out of Ft. Lauderdale. Letís take the back roads over to the   East Coast -- it will give you a chance to see a part of Florida youíve never seen before.

Father:  Sounds okay to me. Iím surprised at all the cattle ranches around here thought we Texans were the only   ones with this many herds ... of course, these do look pretty scrawny compared to ours!  

Daughter:  Yes, I know, Dad -- no place like Texas.

Father:  Who owns all these cattle and grazing lands? Some big corporate group I guess?

Daughter:  Well, Iím not sure about all of it but The Seminole Tribe of Florida is one of the major cattle ranching   enterprises.

Father:  You mean Seminoles as in Indians?

Daughter: Yes, Dad, Indians.

Father:  (After a few miles of silent observance)  Well, I find that hard to believe. All Indians are l lazy. All they do   is lay around and do nothing.

Daughter: Iím curious Dad, whereíd you get that idea?

Father:  Everybody knows it. Iíve been around the Southwest and Midwest and Iíve seen them lay around and   drink. Remember Frank Wright, out in Oklahoma, heís got some pretty ugly stories to tell.

Daughter: Well, Iím sure thereís a few bad apples in every bunch -- white or black, Indian or not -- but I donít think   you could say they are all that way.

Father:  Maybe.  But I donít like my tax dollar going to support them. Now they have casinos and they donít even   pay taxes.

Daughter: Iíve got an idea.  Weíve got a few extra hours. Letís make a couple of stops along the way. Hereís the   first.

Father:   What -- this bingo joint?

Daughter: Yes, just for a few minutes. I hear they serve great hamburgers and who knows, it could be our lucky   day!

Father:  (Emerging a little while later with a big smile) That was pretty good. Iíve got a little extra change to head   home with too. Sure was a big place.

Daughter: It was a pretty impressive operation and it provides a lot of employment opportunities for Indians and   non-Indians, too.  Also, these bingo halls and casinos have given the Seminole Tribes access to funding   they can parlay into other economic opportunities for their people.

Father:  Like what -- selling cigarettes?

Daughter: Well, actually theyíve been doing that since 1971. Bingo started in 1979 and limited casinos ten years   later. Yes, it is true; they generate a lot of income. But the tribal leadership and community sees it as a   means to even more opportunities. In addition to the cattle ranching and citrus groves weíve seen, they   have other agricultural interests and just started an airplane manufacturing facility called Micco Air.

Father:  Well, I still donít like it that they donít pay taxes and get government subsidies.

Daughter: Actually, Dad. they pay about $3.5 million a year in federal payroll taxes and also provide many of their   own services. They have their own health care services, volunteer fire department, police force, and   libraries. The tribe owns or subsidizes their construction, recreation, credit and finance departments.   They have citrus and herd improvement programs to assist the farmers and ranchers. They also    purchase over $24 million a year in goods and services from over 850 Florida vendors. They really   contribute to Floridaís economy.

Father:  I guess thatís all well and good but I still think most of them are lazy drunks, and stupid too. 

Daughter: Dad, youíre a captive audience so Iím going to share one of my favorite subjects with you - history! The   Florida Seminoles you see today are the descendants of about 200 who remained after nearly four   decades and three wars of battling the United States Army.

Father:  Why were they fighting the United States Army?

Daughter: As white settlers moved further and further south from Alabama and Georgia looking for  land and   opportunity, some Indians (mostly Creeks) were pushed off their lands into Florida. After several broken   treaties and the forced removal of thousands of their people to Oklahoma, the only ones left managed to   remain by fleeing into the swamps of South Florida. The United States Government became preoccupied   by the Civil War and finally withdrew. After the war, the Indians were pretty much ignored because no   one was interested in the alligator and mosquito infested swamps they called home.
Father:  So what does this all have to do with them being dumb and stupid?

Daughter: Iím getting there. By the end of the 19th century, the Seminoles and the few hearty white  settlers in the   area had made peace and began trading with one another. A few decades later Tamiami Trail opened   and connected the East and West Coast of Florida. The tourists started arriving and the Indians began   selling tourists crafts and performing alligator wrestling shows.

Father:  I remember taking you to one of those when you were real little... scared you to death!

Daughter: Still does! Anyway, the Indians were slowly adapting to the changes in their world. Itís called    acculturation.

Father:  Whatís that mean?

Daughter: Itís the cultural change that takes place in response to extended first hand contacts between two or more   previously independent groups. Like when the Indians started trading for or purchasing some of the   necessities of their basic living needs rather than growing all of their own food or making their own   clothing. Things like automobiles and sewing machines also brought big changes to the Seminoles.  But   one thing was still missing.   
  
Father:  What was that -- government handouts?

Daughter: No Dad, education. By the 1940ís only five Seminoles had graduated from high school at out-of-state   boarding schools. A few others had rudimentary education from bible colleges and a handful managed to   attend adult education night classes.

Father:  See, I told you. Theyíre stupid and lazy -- couldnít even get motivated to learn.

Daughter: Iíd say they were, and are pretty motivated. After World War II, the United States Government was   looking for ways to reduce the federal budget and the Bureau of Indian  Affairs and the Seminoles in   particular, were targeted for severe reductions. Through incredible determination (and the threat of   termination of government services) a small group of individuals banded together and eventually    organized their people as The Seminole Tribe of Florida. After a century of barely subsisting in the   swamps, these proud and determined people wrote their own constitution, struggled with Washington,   and were granted federal status by the United States Government in 1957. They asked the government   for supervision for  twenty-five years so they could gain the expertise and knowledge needed to take   responsibility for their own affairs. They have come a long way in those years.

Now, in addition to paying off their federal indebtedness in 1993, they provide all those services I told you   about earlier AND the tribe pays for two-thirds of the cost of education. They have educational services   available for babies to senior citizens. They have head-start programs, college scholarships, adult   education, and employment training.

They have progressed in many ways, very rapidly in recent years, but the Seminole tribe  is still one of   the most traditional American Indian tribes in existence. Many of the tribal meetings are conducted in   whole or part in the Indian language and the traditional lifestyle is followed by a large number of tribal   members. Despite all the have been through, they are still proud and independent people.  They are   especially proud of the fact they have never surrendered their land -- which is very important to them,   because their culture treats the earth and land as sacred.

Father:   Well, that was quite a history lesson, but arenít most of them alcoholics?

Daughter: Itís true that alcoholism is a big social problem for all Indian cultures. Itís hard to determine if their   problems are worse than other populations -- itís just easier to see it in their communities because they   often live together on reservations. They were treated pretty badly for a long, long time,  Dad, and I think   it would take a lot of time for any society to recover from the destruction of their known way of living.   Other cultures have alcohol problems, too but they are just better at hiding it.

Father:  How do you know so much about all of this?

Daughter: Education, Dad. Itís the key to understanding and success. I seem to remember someone important in   my life telling me that many years ago when I deciding about college.

Father:  Well, Iím glad you finally decided to go. I guess it never to late to learn. I learned a lot today. Hey, whatís   that big building in the trees over there?

Daughter: Thatís the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum. The Seminoles just built it.

Father:  Do we have time to stop? Iím going to visit Frank Wright in Oklahoma next month, maybe Iíll have some   stories to tell him this time.

(Facts and figures from the Seminole Tribe Web page, available online at http://www.semtribe.com, and from class lectures and discussions were used for portions of this dialogue.)

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