American Indian Heritage Month - November 2012

The first American Indian Heritage Day was celebrated in the state of New York in May 1916. Dr. Arthur C. Parker, a Seneca Indian and Director of the Arts and Sciences Museum in Rochester New York was an early proponent of a day to honor the first Americans and, in fact, convinced the Boy Scouts of America to institute such a day. Several states after that enacted a day to honor American Indians. However, it was in 1990, under the leadership of President George H.W. Bush that a joint Congressional resolution declared November National American Heritage Month. The celebration later was expanded to include the celebration of the heritage of Alaska Natives. A question that is frequently asked is about the usage of the terms “American Indian” versus “Native American”. The United States government chose the term “native American” in the 1960s to designate all those who are American Indians, Alaska natives, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders which are all groups served by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The term is seen by some as a generic government definition of a diverse group of people in the same way that Hispanic is viewed as a generic term to refer to a diverse group of Spanish speaking people. Today, the terms are used interchangeably. However, it is recommended that you refer to a person by their tribe if you know that information (much the same way you would refer to an Italian as an Italian instead of as a European). Currently, there are 560 federally recognized tribes in the United States which includes 220 village groups in Alaska and there 275 Indian land areas. The largest of these Indian land areas is the Navajo Reservation that encompasses 16 million acres of land in Utah, New Mexico and Arizona. Each reservation has a tribal government which is the local governing authority. Although reservations were first created and imposed on American Indians, today they are regarded as homelands — “Notwithstanding the oppression and land loss associated with their founding, reservations also represent a valiant struggle on the part of Indians for autonomy, self-sufficiency, religious freedom, and cultural identity.” For our members in Florida, you will find it interesting that the state of Florida has its own rich history which includes American Indians. It is estimated that there were between 100,000 and 350,000 Indians in Florida in 1492. The tribes represented lived in different parts of the state: the Calusas on the southwestern coast, the Tocobagas in the north end of Tampa Bay, the Apalalachees in the western Panhandle, the Timucuas on the central and northeastern parts of the state and the Tequestas in the southeast part. It is believed that by the late 1700s most, if not all, of the indigenous Indians in Florida were annihilated by disease, wars with the United States and wars with each other. There were, however, two tribes of Indians that immigrated to Florida — the Seminoles and the Micccosukee. Both of these tribes were part of the Creek Indians that lived in the Georgia/Alabama area and ran away to Florida (then controlled by Spain) to escape slavery. Runaway Black Africans also joined the Seminoles in Florida. The Seminoles and the Miccosukee were one tribe until the 1960s when they gained separate entity from the Seminoles mostly due to language differences. The Seminoles fought three wars against the United States between 1817 and 1858 to protect their territory east of the Mississippi. In fact, the second Seminole War was the costliest war the United States fought against an Indian tribe. Today, close to 100,000 American Indians (alone or in combination with other races as identified in the 2010 Census) live in the State of Florida many of them living in or near six Seminole reservations and four Miccosukee reservations. Throughout the state, there are many opportunities to learn and commemorate the celebration. Museums, reservations, cities, towns and universities all have scheduled activities where you can learn more about the rich heritage of American Indians and their contributions to the history of the state of Florida. Now that we have presented a brief history about the state of Florida and two of its American Indian communities, we encourage you to expand your awareness of the American Indian history and community in your own state.  Feel free to take the lead in drafting your own diversity celebration article tailored to your state’s experience in the years to come. Yahnia Rodriguez

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