History - Where we came from

Survival In The Swamp

The Seminoles began the 20th century where they had been left at the conclusion of the Seminole Wars - in abject poverty, hiding out in remote camps in the wet wilderness areas of South Florida. There, finally left at peace from U.S. government oppression, the last few Florida Indians managed to live off the land, maintaining minimal contact with the outside world. Hunting, trapping, fishing and trading with the white man at frontier outposts provided the Seminoles with their only significant economic enterprise of the era.

By this time, development had reached the coastal rivers and plains of South Florida. Inland, a "drain-the-Everglades" mentality promoted by politicians and developers, forever altered the course of the "River of Grass." Even in the untamed wilderness of the Seminole, man's social and ecological pollution had dire effect. Poor crops, shrinking numbers of fish and game, droughts, serious hurricanes and other calamities once again heaped pressure on the Seminoles.

The collapse of the frontier Seminole economy in the 1920s threatened the Florida Indians with assimilation and extinction. The wilderness no longer offered salvation; many lived as tenants on lands or farms where they worked or as spectacles in the many tiny tourist attractions sprouting up across tourist South Florida.

By this time, however, the U.S. Congress had begun to take notice. By 1938, more than 80,000 acres of land had been set aside for the Seminoles in the Big Cypress, Hollywood and Brighton areas and the invitation to move in, to change from subsistence farming and hunting/trapping to an agriculture-based economy, was offered. Few Seminoles moved onto these Indian reservation lands, however, mistrusting the government that had hunted their forebears. Even the religious missionaries had a tough time breaking through the determined Seminole spirit.

In 1934, Congress passed the Indian Reorganization Act, recognizing the rights of American Indians to conduct popular vote elections and govern their own political affairs by constitution and bylaws. Again, inherently suspicious, mistrustful of any government intervention, the Seminoles did not take advantage of this opportunity until 23 years later when the Tribe was faced with official termination by the U.S. Government. They did, however, file a petition with the U.S. Indian Claims Commission in 1947 for a settlement to cover their lands lost to the U.S. government aggressors.

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