There are currently two federally recognized Native American tribes in the state of Florida: the Seminole Tribe of Florida and the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida. What is not common knowledge is the chronology of events beginning in the early-19th century that ultimately led to the governing structures these tribes adopted by the mid-20th century. The Seminole and Miccosukee Indians were not initially recognized as separate entities by the United States government. This required a prolonged campaign in an ever changing political arena to which the Florida Natives had to continually adapt. During this period, they proceeded to reorganize their political councils, as well as to confront the U.S. government’s expectation that American Indians would conform to its Euro-American “western” concept of democracy. The Indians of South Florida faced the same social and political challenges as other tribes at that time––which were often in conflict with their centuries-old forms of governance––but consequently modified their governmental structures and processes to meet the challenges imposed by their own unique circumstances.
The situation came to a head in the mid-1950s when officials in Washington, DC sought to terminate federal supervision of several Indian groups, including the Seminoles—which would likely undermine their community structures. This forced the Seminole and Miccosukee Indians of Florida to evaluate the purpose and utility of obtaining federal recognition. This exhibit will demonstrate how the Indians of Florida—who faced the prospect of losing the distinctive political identities that defined them as separate communities—responded to changes in federal Indian policy.