We Seminole have lived in Florida for thousands of years. Our ancestors were the first people to come to Florida. Our ancestors were connected by family and culture to others across North America, from the Atlantic coast to the Mississippi river, from the Gulf of Mexico to the Great Lakes. They are now called the Mississippian Culture, and their traditions still exist among the Seminole and other tribes today.
We were in Florida when the Spanish arrived. They met our ancestors, who they called by different names; the Miccosukee people, the Muscogee people, the Calusa people, and other Native American tribes. The Spanish brought with them diseases that devastated our ancestors. Within one hundred years the new diseases had killed nine out of ten of the Native People of the Americas.
We gathered from across Florida, Georgia, and Alabama; those borders did not exist for us. Our culture, our home, and our way of life joined us together. We defended our homes and our people, and we became a refuge for those who sought freedom from conquest and slavery. For this, we were seen as a threat.
We would not be controlled by the Spanish or brought into their mission colonies. They called us cimarrónes, the Spanish word for “runaways” or “wild ones”. Some of us saw the name as an insult, some saw it as a badge of honor. But we continued to trade with the people of the Spanish and other European colonies, as we had traded for centuries with our neighbors. We made friends, we made enemies, and we kept our culture as the Europeans struggled to expand their reach. In time, the Spanish bought their cattle and their leather from us.
We were in Florida when the invasion began, starting half a century of warfare with the United States. We watched as the man who led the invasion was elected to be the 7th President of the United States. As president he signed a law breaking all treaties the United States had made with the Native People. This law stated that all Native People east of the Mississippi River be “removed” west. When they tried to force us to leave, breaking the word that had been given, we fought for our home. Abiaka, Coacoochee, Micanopy, Osceola, Holatta Micco, and other great warriors fought for their families and their way of life. Throughout these years under siege many of us were killed, captured, or sent west to reservations far from our ancestors’ homes.
We followed Abiaka, who the Americans knew as Sam Jones, into the swamps of Florida, remaining free and Unconquered. We kept our ways and our traditions. As the years went by, more and more people settled in Florida. They built cities and drained the wetlands. We talked to and traded with these settlers as they filled our old lands. Roads and railways were built throughout the state, bringing new travelers to our lands. We greeted these travelers and shared with them our culture and sold them our crafts.
We continue to grow and prosper, from the two hundred who followed Abiaki, to more than five thousand Tribal members today. We continue to fight for our freedom, but have moved the war from the battlefield to the courtroom. We are a sovereign government with our own schools, police, and courts. We run one of the largest cattle operations in the United States. We own Hard Rock Hotel & Casinos, an international business with locations in 74 countries. We still continue our traditions of sewing, patchwork, chickee building, and alligator wrestling. The world has changed, as it always has, and we have adapted, as we always have; while keeping our ways, our culture, and our lives, to remain the Unconquered Seminole Tribe of Florida.