Brief Background on Seminoles
Seminoles are a Native American tribe originally of Florida, who now reside
primarily in that state and Oklahoma. The Seminole nation began in the 18th
century in a process of ethnogenesis but was not recognized as a separate
tribe by the United States government until 1957. It was composed of Native
Americans from Georgia, Mississippi, and Alabama, most significantly
renegades and outcasts from 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 under
Andrew Jackson's Indian Removal Act of 1830 including ancestors of the
present-day Seminole Nation of Oklahoma.
Approximately 300 to 500 Seminoles stayed in Florida, where they lived and
defended themselves along with the Miccosukee 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
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, effectively
displacing the Calusa and Mayaimi tribes with the aid of the Spanish who moved
many of them to Cuba where the tribes' populations were soon decimated by
disease. The Seminole 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]. 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, Indians from other tribes and whites. 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.
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
There is also a village of Seminole who have lived at Red Bays on Andros
Island in the Bahamas since the British cession of its claim to Florida in
Seminole tribes generally follow Christianity, both Protestantism and Roman
Catholicism, and their traditional Native religion, which is expressed through
the Stomp dance and the Green Corn Ceremony. Indigenous peoples have
practiced Green Corn ceremonies for centuries. Contemporary southeastern
Native American tribes, such as the Seminole and Muscogee Creek, still
practice these ceremonies. A high degree of syncretism exists between
Christianity and traditional Seminole religion, and Seminole Christian
churches often sing hymns in the Seminole language.
In the 1950s, federal projects prompted the tribe's reorganization. They
created organizations within tribal governance to promote modernization.
As Christian pastors began preaching on reservations, Green Corn Ceremony
attendance decreased. This created tension between religiously traditional
Seminoles and those 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 appeared to be one factor in facilitating
Christian conversion, but that also represented social changes of a new
By the 1980s, Seminole communities were concerned about loss of language
and tradition. Many tribal members began to revive the observance of traditional
Green Corn Dance ceremonies, 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
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. General Andrew Jackson's 1817–1818 campaign against the
Seminole Indians became known as the First Seminole War. Following the war,
the United States effectively controlled East Florida.
In 1819 the United States and Spain signed the Adams-Onís Treaty , which 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 European-American settlement increased after the treaty,
settlers pressured the Federal government to remove the Indians from 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 continued to press for removal.
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 countered 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
Other war chiefs, such as Halleck Tustenuggee and 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.
During the Seminole Wars, the Seminole people began to break apart due to
the conflict and differences in ideology. The Seminole population had also been
growing significantly, though it was diminished by the wars. With the division
of the Seminole tribe, some traditions such as powwow trails and ceremonies
were maintained among them. The Seminole Nation of Oklahoma and the Seminole
Tribe of Florida described below are fully independent nations that operate in their
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).
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 who were freed
after the Civil War. 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 membership status of "Seminole Freedmen" in
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." Today, the twenty-first century
descendants of the Seminole proudly note the Seminole were never officially conquered.
That is one source of the nation's sovereign rights.
After the Third Seminole War, the Seminoles in Florida divided into two groups; those
who were more traditional and those willing to adapt to the reservations. Those who
chose the traditional way broke off into the Miccosukee Tribe of Seminole Indians. The
Seminole Tribe of Florida accepted reservation lands and made more adaptations.
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
Seminole. In the 1930s, the Seminole 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. 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 as new converts to Christianity.
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. 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
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. The sovereign Miccosukee
Seminole Nation received international recognition by Cuba on July 26, 1959 There is
a village on Andros Island in the Bahamas whose members have been recognized as
part of the tribe.
Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida
A further division among the latter group led to the formation of The Miccosukee Tribe of
Indians of Florida, which was formed in 1961-1962 by dissatisfied members of the
Everglades Miccosukee Tribe. This tribe was composed mostly of Mikasuki-speaking
descendants of the Chiaha, or Upper Chehaw, who had originally lived in the Tennessee
Valley of Georgai. In contrast, the majority of Seminoles spoke Creek. 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. They have no international recognition.
The formation of a third federally recognized tribe in Florida met with opposition by some
Seminole. The Seminole Indian News reported at the time: "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."
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.
The Seminole Tribe of Florida and the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida entered into a
greements 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.
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.
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.. 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 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. 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, pre-contact 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." 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 has provided secure
employment, and the revenues have supported higher education, heath insurance, services for
the elderly, and personal income. In more recent years, income from the gaming industry has
funded major economic projects such as sugarcane fields, citrus groves, cattle, ecotourism,
and commercial agriculture.
The Seminole are reflected in numerous Florida place names:
Seminole, a city in Pinellas County; 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
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" was attempted against FSU and the Seminoles. It is considered on a case-by-case
basis elsewhere. FSU was exempted after the threat of litigation by the administration at FSU
because the university had an agreement with the 3,100-member Seminole Tribe of Florida of the
relationship and details of the images used. During the dispute, the Oklahoma Seminole also
endorsed use of the name and image.
The "war chant" cheer made by spectators at FSU football games includes the "tomahawk chop",
a gesture invented by the fans. At first they pointed to the goal line, encouraging the team to score,
but over time, the gesture imitated a tomahawk swinging down. Traditionally, the Seminole 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.
The Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida are a federally recognized Native American tribe living
in Florida. They are descendants of the Lower Chiaha, a Muskogee Creek tribe. They have had
centuries of relations with the Seminole. In the 1950s, they separated from the Seminole, largely
on linguistic grounds, and established a separate tribe, which was federally recognized in 1962.
Unlike the Creek-speaking Seminole, they speak the Mikasuki language, another of the
The Miccosukee historically inhabited the upper Tennessee Valley in present-day Georgia,
where they were originally one with the Upper Chiaha. Later they split, with the Miccosukee
(Lower Chiaha) migrating northeast to the Carolinas and the Upper Chiaha migrating west
to northern Alabama, then to northern Florida during the 18th and 19th centuries.
The Chiaha or Creek, formed a major part of the Seminole tribe. Most left Florida in the
1830s under Indian Removal. Those who remained in Florida were in conflict with US
forces during the second and third Seminole Wars. Afterward, they moved into the
Everglades to try to evade settlement pressure. During this period, the Miccosukee
mixed with the Creek-speaking Seminoles, but many maintained their Mikasuki language
The tribe separated from the Seminole in the 1950s to become the Miccosukee Tribe of
Indians of Florida; they were recognized by the state of Florida in 1957, and gained
federal recognition in 1962. The tribe today occupies several reservations in southern
Florida, principally the Miccosukee Indian Reservation.
Other Seminole members went on to form the Miccosukee Seminole Nation, which is
unrecognized in the United States. It was recognized by Fidel Castro's Cuban government
in 1959. The tribe split and reorganized under the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act (IRA).
The etymological roots of the Miccosukee tribal name have been debated for many years.
While the origins have not been fully traced or documented, modern scholarship holds
that the name was given by the first Spanish colonizers to reach the North Carolina
Basin. In one of the few surviving journals of Juan Ponce de León, he records that his
men called the natives they encountered there micos sucios. This is likely the earliest
recorded version of the name that became "Miccosukee." He describes how the
When we arrived on the shores of the Northern islands we encountered an odd group of
natives. They lead us to their village where they lived in hollow'd mounds and were fully
covered in mud and refuse. My lieutenant, [Diaz de la Torre y Gonzaga-Palacios]
exclaimed 'Son como micos sucios' (they are like dirty monkeys). From thence forth,
until we departed those cold shores, Mico Sucio was the means by which we referred
to these happy natives.
Each tribe sets its own membership requirements. The Miccosukee accept as members
those persons who have Miccosukee mothers and are not enrolled in any other Tribe.
The tribe operates a resort and casino in Miami, Florida. The resort is a primary sponsor
of the Miccosukee Championship, a PGA event held in October.
Sports sponsorship also extends to multiple NASCAR teams. These include the 2009
Aaron's 499 winning Sprint Cup Series car driven by Brad Keselowski, a Camping World
truck driven by Kyle Busch, and a Nationwide car driven by Mike Bliss. The Miccosukee
relationship with NASCAR dates to 2002.
Return to Seminoles Page
Return to Florida Home Page