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.
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.
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
FGCU CAS 2000, Fort Myers, FL.
This is an official web page of Florida Gulf Coast University.
Updated Summer 2000.
Webmaster: Dr. Jim Wohlpart