The last time the Seminoles of Florida faced a storm like Hurricane Irma was in the late 1700s, and the storm surge was white Europeans bent on eliminating the native population to take their land, cattle and possessions.
This weekend, the Seminole, along with the rest of what used to be their traditional territory, found themselves right in the path of the biggest hurricane in recorded American history.
There was no escaping a hurricane wider than the entire Florida Peninsula, and although the hardest impact was centred farther west, Seminole Territory was heavily impacted as well.
Power and telephone service was still out as of Tuesday and a more detailed report on damage within their territory was unavailable.
Who are the Seminole:
Seminole historical writer, Willard Steele capsulizes the sad history of the Seminoles.
“The Seminole people are the descendants of the Creek people. The diversity of the Tribe is reflected in the fact that its members spoke seven languages — Muscogee, Hitchiti, Koasati, Alabama, Natchez, Yuchi and Shawnee.”
In 1513, the Spanish conquest that crushed the Aztec, Inca and Toltec people spread to Florida, Georgia and Alabama with the ruthless elimination of the indigenous people and theft of anything of value, including land, and large herds of cattle.
It is estimated that at that time there were around 200,000 indigenous people living in what is now Florida.
When Britain purchased Spanish holdings in the southeast, in 1821, the situation of the Seminole didn’t change, the oppressors just did so under a different flag. The Spanish Indian missions were destroyed and any occupants were killed.
In 1763 Florida was under British control and after the American Revolution, in 1784, Florida was ceded back to Spain where it remained until 1845 when it became the 27th State of the USA. In between there were two wars fought by the Seminole to retain their traditional land, both depleting their population by tens of thousands.
Between 1835 and 1842, 5000 Seminoles fought off the U.S. Army, Navy and Marines, but 3,000 were eventually displaced to government reservations in Oklahoma. After an expenditure of some $40 million the government saw it as too expensive to continue the forced deportation any longer and in 1845, with the addition of Florida as the 27th State, the policy changed and the remaining Indigenous populations were no longer exported or killed if they refused.
“The Seminole population in Florida remained fairly small, around 1200, compared to the main body of Creeks in Georgia and Alabama, who numbered possibly 25,000 people.
Life got increasingly worse as settler greed and the sanctioned dehumanization of Indigenous people gave those who killed the Seminole/Creek population’s status a great patriots.
By 1823 population of about five thousand indigenous people was thrown together and subjected to the fiercest of all the wars ever waged by the U.S. Government against native peoples, known as the Second Seminole War, 1835-1842. By the end of the war there were reportedly only 300 Seminoles left in the territory. Then they fought the Third Seminole War and removed another 240 or so Seminoles.
In 1907, the Department of the Interior set aside 540 acres of land near Dania for Seminole use. In 1911, President Taft set aside lands in Martin, Broward and Hendry Counties as reservations. The Florida State Governor William Jennings vetoed the bill. Jennings believed that the Seminoles had signed a treaty to move to Oklahoma, had no rights as citizens of Florida, and that the rights of 800,000 non-tribal members outweighed those of the 400 Seminoles that lived in the State.
There were 18 reservations of various sizes set up by the American government by 1913, in and around what is today, Hollywood Florida, which was targeted by Hurricane Irma last week. But it wasn’t the first time.
In 1826, a hurricane swept through the Everglades leaving much of Seminole population homeless. Then, in 1826 another hurricane and storm surge killed 4,000 in the Lake Okeechobee area in the worst natural disaster before Hurricane Andrew on 1986. Hurricane Irma was expected to be twice to three times that size.
In more recent times, the Seminole Nation has had great success. In 1992, Seminoles in Florida and Oaklahoma won a $10-million claim against the U.S. “for unconscionable acts during the Seminole Wars”.