Florida’s Native Americans are a vital part of our state’s diverse culture, and during National Native American Heritage Month each November, Floridians had an opportunity to reflect on the vibrant cultures and the contributions of Native Americans in Florida.
For more than 12,000 years, hundreds of thousands of indigenous people have called Florida home, as evidenced by the thousands of recorded prehistoric archaeological sites and the significant presence of Native American communities in Florida today. As Florida’s Chief Cultural Officer, I encourage every Floridian to spend time learning about the rich culture and heritage of Florida’s first people.
Two sovereign nations, The Seminole Tribe of Florida and the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida, as well as many urban Native American people from other tribal nations around the United States, currently live in Florida. Many are part of a vibrant culture who maintain ties to their past while celebrating their heritage. Archaeology can shed light on how Florida’s first people expressed themselves through material culture, including their tools, homes, what they ate, and the art they created.
The traditions, beliefs, and lifeways of the past continue in the lives of modern Native Americans, and the identification of archaeological sites provide tangible places that connect them to their ancestors.
Throughout the year, Floridians can experience the heritage and culture of Native Americans in Florida in many ways. For example, The Seminole Tribe of Florida’s Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum on the Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation off Alligator Alley near Clewiston, is home to over 30,000 unique artifacts, archival items, and exhibit spaces.
An Indian Village operated by the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida along Tamiami Trail offers visitors the opportunity to see demonstrations of traditional arts, crafts, cuisine, and alligator demonstrations. The Museum of Florida History in Tallahassee has exhibits featuring the cultural heritage of Florida’s native people, and the nearby Mission San Luis National Historic Landmark offers visitors a first-hand look at how the Apalachee Indians and the Spanish interacted during Florida’s Mission Period.
In addition to specific sites where visitors and residents can experience Native American heritage, the Mikasuki and Muscogee, or Florida Creek, language spoken by Seminole and Miccosukee people may be encountered everyday through the names of some Florida places such as Hialeah, meaning “open country,” Okeechobee, meaning “big water,” and Tallahassee (likely a misspelling of the Mikasuki word Tallahatchee), meaning “rock river”.
The Department of State’s Division of Historical Resources maintains several programs to help preserve and promote Native American heritage across the state. From archaeological sites and traditions that are hundreds or thousands of years old, to museums and rodeos, visitors have many opportunities to immerse themselves in longstanding Florida traditions.
Ken Detzner, Florida secretary
of state, Tallahassee