Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Buffalo Tiger's Dilemma

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Buffalo Tiger's Dilemma

Article excerpt

The Miccosukees were an undefeated people, having never officially surrendered to the United States government, and they considered themselves a free people.

In 1818, Andrew Jackson, first territorial governor of Florida and future president of the United States, began a campaign of western relocation for ail Native Americans in the territory. Among the tribes targeted for relocation were the Miccosukees, descendants of the Creeks, whose ancestral lands existed in the present-day states of Alabama and Georgia. The Miccosukees, having been driven out of that region decades earlier by British, French, and American colonists, found refuge to the south in what was then Spanish-occupied Florida.

The Miccosukees, along with the Seminoles, several other tribes, and isolated groups of African-American slaves who had escaped from their captors and taken refuge in the upper reaches of Spanish Florida, as well, resisted this newest effort at relocation. A series of battles ensued, and the Miccosukees and their allies retreated farther and farther south until they ultimately ended up scattered throughout southern Florida, including parts of what we know today as the Everglades. There the pursuit gradually died out, and the Miccosukees were left alone to learn the ways of Florida's first people, the Calusa Indians, who had lived in the "grassy water" for centuries.

The Miccosukees built thatched huts (chi-kees); planted beans, squash, and bananas; fished; and hunted deer, turkey, ibis, and turtles. They developed a subsistence lifestyle in harmony with the ebb and flow of the Everglades' seasonal rains. The area was forbidding to European Americans, and since the prospect of settling there seemed unlikely, the Miccosukees, who lived on isolated hammocks (small islands) in the deepest recesses of the Everglades, were all but forgotten. They practiced a communal way of living without private property, drawing only what they needed from the surrounding environment to ensure a marginal, yet sustainable, livelihood.

Buffalo Tiger

It was into this Native American culture that Buffalo Tiger was born in the early 1900s. The Miccosukees were an undefeated people, having never officially surrendered to the U.S. government, and they considered themselves free. They distrusted whites and shunned contact with them. Indeed, as a boy, Buffalo Tiger hid in the saw grass and watched white people from a distance. He was 14 before he played with a white boy. Buffalo Tiger learned to value the traditional Miccosukee ways of communal living and respect for the land, and he grew up committed to keeping the old ways intact.

The magnitude of Buffalo Tiger's challenge became evident in the 1940s and '50s as environmental impacts stemming from the rapid growth and development of south Florida began to change the face of the Everglades dramatically. Florida's bicoastal development disrupted the north-south flow of water throughout the region, and the ecosystem began to lose its capacity to sustain inhabitants. The flow of fresh water declined, as did populations of fish and game so vital to the Miccosukee way of life. Like an endangered species, the Miccosukees were gradually flushed from their cover by the destruction of their habitat by outside forces that were beyond their control.

To add insult to injury, when Everglades National Park was established in 1947, the Miccosukees were moved from the park's two million acres to a vestigial 76,000 acres alongside the Tamiami Trail (Highway 41), which skirts the park's northern boundary. The impetus for the park grew out of several environmental crises ignited by the white culture's slipshod development of south Florida, not by the Miccosukee way of life. Yet the Miccosukees were the ones displaced by the park's creation. As Marjorie Stoneman Douglas observed in her provocative book The Everglades: River Of Grass: "The indians stared at the smoke, the creeping fires, with the stoic faces of fatalism. …

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