Thursday, September 13, 2012

Florida History: Seminoles reject freedom, seek "supervision" - 1950s

File:Seminole family Cypress Tiger.jpg
Seminoles, 1916 near Miami

A federal initiative to integrate the American Indian population with mainstream America was conducted between the end of President Franklin Roosevelt’s era to the beginning of John F. Kennedy’s presidency. Laws were enacted to terminate the government’s trusteeship of Indian lands and to relocate them to cities where it was believed they would have more education and employment opportunities.

The Seminoles, the only Indian tribe never to sign a peace treaty with the U.S. government, were not too happy. President Dwight D. Eisenhower granted them their freedom, but in a letter to the “great White Father,” the Seminoles rejected the plan. Through their attorneys they stated: “Request action giving us our freedom be reconsidered as we, members of the Seminole tribe, realize our limitations and know that we still need supervision and assistance in our affairs.”

The Seminoles, numbering about 900 during the 1950s, were not united in their proposed status change. Two factions emerged in the debate about their freedom. Buffalo Tiger, leader of what became the smaller Miccosukee tribe, wanted gradual withdrawal from federal jurisdiction. He wanted lands to be preserved on the Big Cypress and Brighton reservations where they raised beef herds.

Michael Osceola, leader of the other Seminole faction, said the Indians had to face the fact that the government couldn’t be their guardian forever. The two groups did agree on a few parts of the new law. Under one stipulation, Seminole women would be able to have their babies in area hospitals. Neither faction was concerned about lifting the restriction of whiskey sales to Indians. It was never enforced anyway.

“I’ve bought so much whiskey, gotten so sick with it, paid so much money for it that I had to stop drinking, said Howard Osceola.

The Seminole tribe was recognized by the U.S. government in 1957. The Miccosukees pulled away from the Seminoles and were recognized as a nation in 1962 – after leader Buffalo Tiger flew to Havana to meet with Fidel Castro.

Some say the U.S. government abandoned its policy to integrate American Indians when they recognized that there were distinct differences between the Indian and Anglo. Perhaps the desire to maintain cultural integrity prevailed over the issue of differences. The tribes' insistence to remain culturally intact paid off. Today, the Miccosukees run a large casino on their lands 30 miles west of Miami; the Seminoles run casinos throughout South Florida. 

Palm Beach Post, Aug. 30, 1953
Grunwald, Michael. The Swamp.New York: Simon and Schuster (2006)
Educational Resources Information Center

Tags: Seminole history, Miccosukee history, Federal policy toward American Indians, American Indians under Dwight D. Eisenhower, Florida history, film industry researcher

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