Seminole Indians: Wikis


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Seminole portraits
Total population
est. 18,600
Regions with significant populations
United States (Oklahoma, Florida)

English, Mikasuki, Creek


Protestantism, Catholicism, Green Corn Ceremony

Related ethnic groups

Miccosukee, Choctaw, Muscogee (Creek)

Seminoles are a Native American tribe originally of Florida, who now reside primarily in that state and Oklahoma. The Seminole nation was formed in the 18th century in a process of ethnogenesis. It was composed of Native Americans from Georgia, Mississippi, and Alabama, most significantly the Creek people, as well as African Americans who escaped to Florida from slavery in South Carolina and Georgia.

Roughly 3,000 Seminoles were forced west of the Mississippi River during Indian Removal including ancestors of the present-day Seminole Nation of Oklahoma.

Approximately 300 to 500 Seminoles stayed in Florida, where they lived and defended themselves in and around the Everglades. In an effort to dislodge them, the US government waged the Seminole Wars, in which a total of about 1,500 U.S. soldiers died. The Seminoles never surrendered to the United States. The Seminoles of Florida call themselves the "Unconquered People".

Today Seminoles have sovereignty over their tribal lands and an economy based on tobacco sales, tourism, gambling and entertainment. They were the first people to catch and consume stone crabs as we know them today.

The "Seminoles" are the symbol of the athletic teams of Florida State University. The university negotiated to gain agreement for use of the name with the 3,100-member Seminole Tribe of Florida. They officially approved the relationship and details of the images and costumes to be used.



In the late 18th century, the Lower Creeks, a tribe of Muscogee people, began to migrate into Florida to evade the dominance of the Upper Creeks. They intermingled with the few remaining indigenous people there, some recently arrived as refugees after the Yamasee War, such as the Yuchi, Yamasee, and others. In a process of ethnogenesis, they formed a new culture which they called "Seminole", a derivative of the Mvskoke' (a Creek language) word simano-li, an adaptation of the Spanish "cimarrón" which means "wild" (in their case, "wild men"), or "runaway" [men].[citation needed] The Seminole were a heterogeneous tribe made up of mostly Lower Creeks from Georgia, Mkasuki-speaking Muscogees, and escaped African-American slaves, and to a lesser extent, whites and Indians from other tribes. The unified Seminole spoke two languages: Creek and Mikasuki (a modern dialect similar to Hitchiti), two different members of the Muscogean Native American languages family, a language group that includes Choctaw and Chickasaw. It is chiefly on linguistic grounds that the modern Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida maintain their separate identity today.[citation needed]

During the colonial years, the Seminole were on good terms with both the Spanish and the British. In 1784, the treaty ending the American Revolutionary War transferred British rule of Florida to Spanish control. The Spanish Empire's decline enabled the Seminole to settle more deeply into Florida. They were led by a dynasty of chiefs founded in the 18th century by Cowkeeper. This dynasty lasted until 1842, when the US forced the majority of Seminoles to move from Florida to the Indian Territory (modern Oklahoma) after the Second Seminole War.

There is also a village of Seminoles which has lived at Red Bays on Andros Island in the Bahamas since the British relinquishment of its claim to Florida in 1821 and relocation of families allied with their claims against Spain.


"Stomp Dance," painting by Jerome Tiger (Seminole Nation of Oklahoma), 1967

Seminole tribes generally associate themselves with three religions: Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, and their traditional religion, which is expressed through the Stomp dance and the Green Corn Ceremony. Green Corn Ceremonies have been practiced for centuries and are still practiced by contemporary southeastern Native American tribes, such as the Seminole and Muscogee Creek. A high degree of syncretism exists between Christianity and traditional Seminole religion, and Seminole Christian churches often sing hymns in the Seminole language.[1]

In the 1950s, federal projects prompted the tribe's reorganization and put bureaucratic organizations in place within tribal governance to promote modernization. Many Seminoles embraced the idea of modernization, and as Christian pastors began preaching on reservations, Green Corn Ceremony attendance decreased. This created tension between religiously traditional Seminoles and Seminoles who began adopting Christianity. In the 1960s and 1970s, some tribal members on reservations, such as the Brighton Seminole Indian Reservation, viewed organized Christianity as a threat to their traditions. Tribal reorganization had facilitated Christian conversion that became widespread.

By the 1980s, the loss of language and tradition in Seminole communities was observed. Many tribal members began to observe traditional Green Corn Dance ceremonies again and some moved away from Christianity. By 2000 religious tension between Green Corn Dance attendees and Christians (particularly Baptists) decreased. Some Seminole families participate in both religions.[2]

Seminole Wars

Coeehajo, Chief, 1837, Smithsonian American Art Museum

After attacks by Spanish settlers on Indian towns, Indians began raiding Georgia settlements, purportedly at the behest of the Spanish. In the early 1800s, the U.S. Army made increasingly frequent incursions into Spanish territory to recapture escaped slaves, including Andrew Jackson's 1817–1818 campaign against the Seminole Indians that became known as the First Seminole War. Following the war, the United States effectively controlled East Florida.

The Adams-Onís Treaty [3] was signed between the United States and Spain in 1819 and took effect in 1821. According to its terms, the United States acquired Florida and, in exchange, renounced all claims to Texas. Andrew Jackson was named military governor of Florida. As American settlement increased after the treaty, settlers pressured the Federal government to remove the Indians from their lands in Florida. Slaveholders resented that Indian tribes harbored runaway black slaves, and more settlers wanted access to desirable Indian lands. Georgian slaveholders wanted the "maroons" and fugitive slaves living among the Seminoles, known today as Black Seminoles, returned to slavery.

In 1832, the United States government signed the Treaty of Paynes Landing with a few of the Seminole chiefs. They promised lands west of the Mississippi River if the chiefs agreed to leave Florida voluntarily with their peoples. The Seminoles who remained, prepared for war. White settlers pressured the government to remove the Indians by force if necessary. In 1835, the U.S. Army arrived to enforce the treaty. Seminole leader Osceola led the vastly outnumbered resistance during the Second Seminole War. Drawing on a population of about 4,000 Seminole Indians and 800 allied Black Seminoles, he mustered at most 1,400 warriors (Andrew Jackson estimated they had only 900). They had to counter combined U.S. Army and militia forces that ranged from 6,000 troops at the outset to 9,000 at the peak of deployment in 1837. To survive, the Seminole allies employed guerrilla tactics with devastating effect against U.S. forces. Osceola was arrested when he came under a flag of truce to negotiations in 1837. He died in jail less than a year later. His body was buried without his head.

Other war chiefs such as Halleck Tustenuggee, Jumper, and Black Seminoles Abraham and John Horse continued the Seminole resistance against the army. After a full decade of fighting, the war ended in 1842. Scholars estimate the U.S. government spent about $40,000,000 on the war, at the time a huge sum. Many Indians were forcibly exiled to Creek lands west of the Mississippi; others retreated into the Everglades. In the end, the government gave up trying to subjugate the Seminoles and left the estimated fewer than 500 survivors in peace.[3][4]


Seminole woman painted by George Catlin 1834

During the Seminole Wars, the Seminole people began to break apart due to numerous aspects of the conflict and differences in ideology. The Seminole population had also been growing significantly, though it was diminished as an effect of the wars with the United States government.[5] With the division of the Seminole tribe, some traditions such as powwow trails and ceremonies were maintained among them. However, the Oklahoma Seminoles and the Florida Seminoles described below are independent nations that operate in their own spheres.[6]


Oklahoma Seminoles

As a result of the Second Seminole War (1835-1842) about 3,800 Seminoles and maroons were forcibly removed to Indian Territory (the modern state of Oklahoma)[7]. The Seminole Nation of Oklahoma now has about 6,000 enrolled members, who are divided into fourteen bands. Two are called "Freedmen Bands" (also "black Seminoles") because they descended in part from escaped slaves. Band membership is matrilineal: children are members of their mother's band. The group is ruled by an elected council, with two members from each band. The capital is at Wewoka, Oklahoma. Recently tribal citizenship disputes have arisen related to the status of "Seminole Freedmen" in Oklahoma.[7]

Florida Seminoles

The remaining few hundred Seminoles survived in the Florida swamplands avoiding removal. They lived in the Everglades, to isolate themselves from European-Americans. Seminoles continued their distinctive life, such as "clan-based matrilocal residence in scattered thatched-roof chickee camps."[7] Today, the twenty-first century descendants of the Seminole proudly note the Seminoles were never officially conquered. That is one source of the nation's sovereign rights.[8]

After the Third Seminole War, the Seminoles in Florida divided into two groups; those that were more traditional and those willing to adapt to the reservations. Those who chose the traditional way broke off into the Miccosukee Tribe of Florida. The Seminole Tribe of Florida accepted reservation lands and made more adaptations.[5]

Seminole Tribe of Florida

The Seminole Tribe of Florida worked to adapt, but they were highly affected by the rapidly changing American environment. Natural disasters magnified changes from the governmental drainage project of the Everglades. Residential, agricultural and business development changed the "natural, social, political, and economic environment" of the Seminoles.[6] In the 1930s, Seminoles slowly began to move onto federally designated reservation lands within the region. The US government had purchased lands and put them in trust for Seminole use.[9] Some feared that if they moved onto reservations, they would be forced to move to Oklahoma. Others accepted the move in hopes of stability, jobs promised by the Indian New Deal, or new converts to Christianity.[10]

The Seminole Tribe of Florida continued to adapt to the changes. Many had to accept the reservation way of life, wage labor, or relocation. In 1957 the nation reorganized and established formal relations with the US government.[6] The Seminole Tribe of Florida is headquartered in Hollywood, Florida. They also have lands in Big Cypress, Brighton Seminole Indian Reservation, Dania, Florida State Reservation, and a Tampa Reservation.[11]

Miccosukee Tribe of Seminole Indians

In 1957 the state of Florida recognized the Everglades Miccosukee Tribe of Seminole Indians, and they received federal recognition in 1958.[12] The sovereign Miccosukee Seminole Nation received international recognition by Cuba on July 26, 1959[13] There is a village on Andros Island in the Bahamas whose members have been recognized as part of the tribe.

The Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida The Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida was formed in 1961-1962 by dissatisfied members of the Everglades Miccosukee Tribe of Seminole Indians. They were mostly Mikasuki-speaking descendants of the Chiaha, or Upper Chehaw, who had originally lived in the Tennessee Valley. The majority of Seminoles spoke Creek.[14] The Miccosukee Tribe set up a 333-acre reservation on the northern border of Everglades National Park, about 45 miles (72 km) west of Miami.[15] They have no international recognition.

The formation of a 3rd tribe met with controversy. The Seminole Indian News reported: "The U.S. Interior Dept. is pushing ahead with its plans to organize a third tribe of puppet Indians in an effort to wreck the many years of negotiations and agreements with our Miccosukee Tribe," charged Homer Osceola, Co-Chairman of the Miccosukee Tribal Executive Council."...If they go through with this shenanigan, it will be the biggest fraud on the Seminoles since the fake so-called treaty of Paynes Landing over 100 years ago. And we want the American public to know what is going on here." [16]


In the United States 2000 Census, 12,431 people reported themselves as Seminole American Indian. An additional 15,000 people identified themselves as Seminoles in combination with some other tribal affiliation or race.[17]

The Seminole Tribe of Florida and the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida entered into agreements with the US government in 1957 and 1962, respectively, confirming their sovereignty over tribal lands and agreeing to compensation for seized territory. The Seminole have been engaged in stock raising since the mid-1930s, when they received cattle from western Indians. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) hoped that the cattle raising would teach Seminoles to become citizens using agricultural settlements. The BIA also hoped that this program would lead to Seminole self-sufficiency. Cattle owners realized that by using their cattle as equity, they could engage in "new capital-intensive pursuits", such as housing.[18] Since then, the tribes have developed economies based chiefly on sales of duty-free tobacco, heritage and resort tourism, and gambling. On December 7, 2006, they purchased the Hard Rock Cafe chain of restaurants.[19]

Florida experienced a population boom in the early twentieth century when the Flagler railroad to Miami was completed. The state became a growing destination for tourists and many resort towns were established.[7]. In the years that followed, many Seminoles worked in the cultural tourism trade. By the 1920s, many Seminoles were involved in service jobs. In addition, they were able to market their culture [20] by selling traditional craft products (made mostly by women) and by exhibitions of traditional skills, such as wrestling alligators (by men). Some of the crafts included woodcarving, basket weaving, beadworking, patchworking, and palmetto-doll making. These crafts are still practiced today. Fewer Seminole rely on crafts for income because gaming has become so lucrative.[6] The Miccosukee Tribe has sustained itself by owning and operating a casino, resort, a golf club, several museum attractions, and the "Indian Village". At the "Indian Village", Miccosukee demonstrate traditional, precontact lifestyles to educate people about their culture.

"In 1979, the Seminoles opened the first casino on Indian land, ushering in what has become a multibillion-dollar industry operated by numerous tribes nationwide." [21]. This casino was the first tribally operated bingo hall in North America. Since its establishment, gaming has become an important source of revenue for tribal governments. Tribal gaming provided secure employment, and the revenues have supported higher education, heath insurance, services for the elderly, and personal income.[22] In more recent years, income from the gaming industry has funded major projects such as sugarcane fields, citrus groves, cattle, ecotourism, and commercial agriculture.[23]

The Seminole are reflected in numerous Florida place names:

  • Seminole County;
  • Osceola County;
  • Seminole, a city; and
  • Seminole, a small community in Okaloosa County.

Florida State University connection

The image and name of the Seminole Chief Osceola serves as a symbol for Florida State University (FSU). Several high school athletic programs in the state use the nickname "Seminoles".

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) prohibition against use of Native American logos, signs in stadiums, cheerleader and band uniforms, and mascots as presumed "hostile and abusive" did not apply to FSU and the Seminoles. It is considered on a case-by-case basis elsewhere. FSU was exempt since it had already negotiated agreement with the 3,100-member Seminole Tribe of Florida of the relationship and details of the images used.

The "war chant" cheer made by spectators at FSU football games includes the "tomahawk chop", a gesture intended to symbolize a tomahawk's swinging down; however, the Seminoles seldom used tomahawks. Before converting to modern weaponry, Seminole ancestors used spears with flint, bone or cane tips, war clubs studded with sharks' teeth, and bows and arrows.[24]

See also


  1. ^ Clark, 750, 752
  2. ^ Cattelino, 64-65
  3. ^ Covington, James W. 1993. The Seminoles of Florida, Gainesville, Florida: University Press of Florida. ISBN 0-8130-1196-5. Pp. 145-6
  4. ^ Garbarino, Merwyn S. 1989 The Seminole, Pp.55
  5. ^ a b [1]
  6. ^ a b c d Cattelino, p.41
  7. ^ a b c d Cattelino, p.23
  8. ^ Waldman, Carl. (2009). Atlas of the North American Indian, p.159. Checkmark Books, New York. ISBN 978-0-8160-6858-6
  9. ^ Cattelino, p.130
  10. ^ Cattelino, p.142
  11. ^ Atlas of the North American Indian, 3rd ed. New York: Checkmark Books, 2009. Print.
  12. ^ Letter of US Recognition
  13. ^ CUBAN Recognition 1959
  14. ^ [2]
  16. ^ , Miccosukee Seminole Nation website
  17. ^ US Census
  18. ^ Cattelino, pp. 32 and 34
  19. ^ "Seminoles to Buy Hard Rock Chain", Market Watch, 7 Dec 2006
  20. ^ Cattelino, p.40
  21. ^ Robert Andrew Powell, "Florida State Can Keep Its Seminoles", New York Times, 24 Aug 2005, accessed 26 Aug 2008
  22. ^ Cattelino. Ibid p.9
  23. ^ Cattelino. Ibid. p.113
  24. ^ "Seminole History FAQs", Seminole Tribe


  • Cattelino, Jessica R. High Stakes: Florida Seminole Gaming and Sovereignty. Durham: Duke University Press, 2008. ISBN 978-0-8223-42274
  • Clark, C. Blue. "Native Christianity Since 1800." Sturtevant, William C., general editor and Raymond D. Fogelson, volume editor. Handbook of North American Indians: Southeast. Volume 14. Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution, 2004. ISBN 0-16-072300-0.

External links


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