Seminole Indians Tribal Origin: Muscogee (or Creek) and Hitchiti
Native Name: Ikaniúksalgi, means ‘peninsula people’
Home Territories: Florida and eventually Oklahoma and Mexico
Languages: Muscogee and Hittite
Enemies: Fought hard against the United States
Originally part of the Creek tribe, the Seminole migrated to Florida in the early 1700s, when the Southeast region was under Spanish control.
They lived in houses called chickees, which had no walls and were built on stilts, with a wooden floor and thatched roof. The Seminoles grew corn, beans, and squash and supplemented their diet through hunting and fishing.
They were also known for their skill at woodcarving and basketry.
The presence of runaway slaves in Spanish Florida and escalating raids across the U.S.-Florida border by both white settlers and the Seminoles led to a series of major conflicts, known as the Seminole Wars, beginning in 1817.
During the First Seminole War, General Andrew Jackson and his forces invaded Florida, killing Seminoles, destroying their villages, and capturing Spanish forts.
The Spanish ceded Florida to the U.S. in 1819. The Seminoles’ resistance to the U.S. government’s attempts to relocate them to reservations, first by treaty and then with the enactment of the Indian Removal Act in 1830, led to the Second Seminole War (1835-1842).
Led by Osceola, the Seminoles used guerrilla tactics to fight the vastly larger U.S. forces. The tribe surrendered when they faced starvation after U.S. troops destroyed their crops and villages; many Seminoles were forced to move to Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma).
The few Seminoles who remained, isolated in southern Florida, continued to face settler encroachment and fought back, but were defeated in the Third Seminole War (1855-1858).
The use of the Seminole name and symbols by Florida State University (FSU) was negotiated directly with the tribe. They are exempt from any lawsuits due to this agreement.
Modern Seminole Tribes Today:
The First Seminole War
Following the War of 1812 between the United States and Britain, American slave owners came to Florida in search of runaway African slaves and Indians. These Indians, known as the Seminole, and the runaway slaves had been trading weapons with the British throughout the early 1800s and supported Britain during the War of 1812.
From 1817-1818, the United States Army invaded Spanish Florida and fought against the Seminole and their African American allies. Collectively, these battles came to be known as the First Seminole War.
Seminole Indians lived in a home called a Chickee.
Tribal enrollment requirements for the Seminole Nation in Oklahoma are changing.
In a July 2000 referendum election, tribal members voted to require a one-eighth quantum of Seminole blood as a part of enrollment requirements. Former open enrollment requirements did not specify blood quantum as a part of the process.
The Seminole Nation does not allow dual enrollment for its members. Those who apply for Seminole enrollment cannot be enrolled members of another tribe and officials say the Enrollment Office contacts other tribes if one is specified on the enrollment application.
The Seminole settled in what is now Oklahoma, following their removal from Florida. Runaway slaves who had escaped and lived with the Seminole also relocated with the tribe and became known as the Freedmen. Seminole membership rolls include descendants of these Freedmen. Enrollment Officer Jane McKane said that although the Freedmen are enrolled members, they are not given the same services as tribal members with Seminole blood. Currently the Freedmen have the right to vote in tribal elections.
Part of the reasoning behind the changes in enrollment McKane said, was because of the low blood quantum in those applying for tribal membership. “Well, the blood quantum was getting so low that the people who were enrolling weren’t even interested in the tribe. They (the election committee) felt like we were really getting people with no Indian blood. That may be happening from now on I think, because of marriages to non-Indians.”
There are 13,000 Seminoles enrolled with the tribe and 1,927 Freedmen who are enrolled.
“When the Seminoles were forced out of Florida, they were slaves. They were called runaways and they came with the Seminoles to Indian Territory. When they came here, of course they had slave owners, but they were freed. That is why they are called Freedmen. These descendants are now members of the tribe,” McKane said.
Because of the election, Freedmen may be in jeopardy of losing their tribal enrollment. “If the BIA rules on it (Amendment #8 on the referendum election), then that will eliminate the Freedmen because they have to have Indian blood,” McKane explained.
The Freedmen with the Seminole were the only former slaves of the Five Civilized Tribes to be recognized as tribal members. “All five tribes had Freedmen, but they had it in their constitutions and ordinance that they would not accept them. That has been their laws since they began their enrollment. I don’t know why we didn’t at the time, but we did. We went ahead and enrolled them. We have been enrolling them since 1975. That was when we began our enrollment. We were the first of the five tribes to begin enrollment.”
Before that time, those who came and lived within lands under tribal jurisdiction were those listed on the Dawes Commission roll. The Seminole had not been enrolling members before that time.
What about the Freedmen? “They are still members yet,” McKane said. “Whatever the government says, we will do. We haven’t heard anything from them yet.” McKane believes that once the BIA approves amendments from the recent election, the Freedmen will have tribal membership revoked. “There will be no Freedmen members at all in the tribe.”
Seminoles and Freedmen alike are waiting for the BIA to approve or veto election results. And there are tensions among those involved as they wait to see what the face of the Seminole Nation will be.