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By: Stephen Tiger

Legends passed down through generations provide fascinating explanations regarding the origins of the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida. One story tells of a people dropping from heaven into a lake in northern Florida, now called Lake Miccosukee, and swimming ashore to build a town. No early written records help to clarify the picture, but it’s known that the Miccosukee people were originally part of the Creek Nation.

The Early History of Florida’s Miccosukee Tribe

The Creek Nation was an association of clan villages in the areas now known as Alabama and Georgia. This territory was separated into two: the Upper Creeks, who lived in the mountains and spoke Muskogee; and the Lower Creeks, who lived at the base of the mountains and spoke Hitchiti.

Although the languages are closely related, speakers of each language typically could not understand each other. This made communication difficult between the two groups that were constantly at war with one another.

The Miccosukee are from the Lower Creek region and speak the Mikasuki language, which is derived from Hitchiti. The Miccosukee and other Lower Creek tribes lived together in harmony. They shared legends, religious practices and social gatherings, in addition to trade and traditional stickball games. They lived by hunting, fishing and growing crops – corn being the most significant. The new harvest is still celebrated each year at the sacred Green Corn Dance.

The arrival of the Europeans in the 1500s placed the Creek people in the center of a three-way struggle for colonial supremacy on the southern frontier. In the 1700s, the Spaniards enticed some Lower Creeks to relocate into Spanish Florida and take up lands formerly occupied by Florida’s indigenous tribes.

The Miccosukees, who were familiar with the Florida peninsula through hunting and fishing expeditions, were among the first to arrive sometime after 1715. They settled here in an effort to escape both white people and their Upper Creek brothers.

Permanent settlements were established in the Apalachee Bay region and along the Chattahoochee and Apalachicola rivers. Families built and occupied substantial dwellings, engaged in skilled handicrafts, and participated in a sophisticated social life.

Seminole Wars & the Miccosukee Tribe

Following the American Revolution, white settlers started pushing west and south, creating conflict with the Upper Creeks. These conflicts led to the Creek War of 1813 and later the so-called First Seminole War of 1818.

The Miccosukees managed to stay in the Florida Panhandle for a while, resisting the white settlers, American soldiers and slave traders’ attacks on their towns. However, they eventually left the area to settle around Alachua, near the present-day Gainesville area.

In 1821, when Spain sold Florida to the United States, Americans recognized the rights of Indians over much of the land in the peninsula. In 1823, they negotiated for the land in the Treaty of Moultrie Creek. The Indian leaders who signed the treaty wanted peace. Therefore, they agreed to pull their clans back to a reservation in central Florida, where they would be allowed to live in peace for 20 years.

By 1830, however, agitation by new American settlers led the U.S. to adapt the Indian Removal Act, which dictated that all Indians in the southeast had to move out west. This forced the Miccosukees to join the other Creek tribes in the wars known as the Second Seminole War (1835 to 1842) and the Third Seminole War (1855 to 1858).

During these wars, the Miccosukees survived by fighting and hiding in the Everglades. Today, Miccosukee tribal members are descendants of some 50 people who eluded capture. To survive in this new environment, they had to adapt to living in small groups in temporary “hammock-style” camps spread throughout the Everglades’ vast “river of grass.”

Fishing and hunting continued to provide the main staples of their diet. However, they had to learn to harvest the native fruits of the hammocks along with the coontie and cabbage palm of higher ground. Corn, which plays an essential role in tribal customs, became very difficult to grow.

Modern Miccosukee Culture

By the 1870s, identifiable permanent Miccosukee communities began to form. Game was abundant and there was a surplus of alligator skins, deer hides and feathers, which were traded in town for cloth, tools, guns, salt and coffee. The test to adapt without becoming assimilated persisted throughout the 1900s.

In the early 1900s, canals were cut to drain the northern and eastern Everglades for agriculture. This reduced the fish and game population drastically. Real-estate booms changed Miami overnight into an expanding metropolis, and the construction of the Tamiami Trail in 1928 (connecting the east and west coasts of Florida, through the Everglades) allowed non-Indians access to the fish and game. However, the most significant change came in 1947 when the U.S. Department of Interior declared most of the tribe’s ancestral land part of Everglades National Park.

In adapting to new ways, the Miccosukees have always managed to retain their own culture. They have kept their language, medicine and clans. Some Miccosukees even prefer to live in chickees (thatched-roof houses on stilts) instead of modern housing.

The Miccosukee Tribe values economic self-sufficiency and self-determination. Since the early 1960s, the Miccosukees have had their own constitution and bylaws. Their goal of total independence has led to the tribe operating its own clinic, police department, court system, day-care center, senior program, Community Action Agency, educational system and other social services. These programs – along with a gift shop, general store and service station – are located on the Tamiami Trail Reservation, 40 miles west of Miami.

A gaming facility and tobacco shop are located on the Krome Avenue Reservation, at the intersection of Krome Avenue and Tamiami Trail; and a full-service gas station and plaza are located on the Alligator Alley Reservation, west of Fort Lauderdale, lying north and south of State Road 84.

Membership in the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida is open to Indians who are one-half Miccosukee Indian blood and who are not enrolled members of any other tribe.

The Miccosukee way is best reflected in its yellow, red, black and white flag, colors that represent the circle of life: east, north, west and south. They view the whole universe as spinning slowly in a circle like the logs of their ceremonial fire – what was, will be and will cease to be again.

Experience Miccosukee History & Traditions

The Miccosukee Indian Village and Airboat Rides is an authentic family camp with sleeping and working chickees surrounding the cooking chickee, which has a symbolic star-shaped fire. The village includes a museum, boardwalk and alligator arena.

About the Author

Stephen Tiger was the public relations director for the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida, Inc. He successfully transformed the Miccosukee Indian Village and Airboat Rides into a major attraction. His endeavors showcased the Miccosukee Tribe and the Everglades. Tiger was also an accomplished musician, singer, songwriter and author. He passed away in 2006.

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