30 January 2012 (DRAFT)
I have chosen to write about the Seminole people, a Native American tribe that lives primarily in the Southeastern part of the United States. My study of the Seminoles has taught me important lessons about American history and how Native peoples like the Seminoles lived, were treated by other settlers and adapted to their environment.
In this essay, I will describe the region in which the Seminoles lived, the sorts of houses they built, their clothing, food, tools and weapons, and other important facts about their lives. These details will offer a picture of Native life in 18th and 19th century America. It is important to know, however, that the life of the Seminole tribe can be traced back at least 12,000 years and that there still are many Seminole people living in the United States today (primarily in Florida on a reservation and in Oklahoma on trust lands).
The word “Seminole” which has been translated from the Creek Indian word for “wild” [or “runaway”]. The label “Seminole” was not widely used until the mid 18th century, when a variety of separate tribes, including the Creek people and other tribes living in Georgia, Alabama and Florida and speaking many different languages gathered together in Florida as the Seminole Nation. In addition, there is evidence that African-American slaves, who escaped from plantations, joined the Seminole communities, united in their opposition to White people.
The Seminole Tribe was the only Native tribe not to sign a peace treaty with the United States government. As a result, the Seminole people were involved in a series of wars with the United States, including the War of 1812 and the First, Second and Third Seminole Wars, which took great tolls on the population of the Seminole people.
After these wars, beginning in the mid 19th century, the remaining Seminole people lived for many years on the fringes of society. They moved to the Everglades, a very swampy place in South Florida where they remained in random communities until the early 20th century when they were offered reservation lands and developed their own versions of self-government.
Beginning in the early 1800’s, the Seminole people lived primarily in houses called “chickees.” Chickees had open walls, thatch roofs and were often built on stilts that were 2-3 feet tall. Chickees were made of wood, plaster, and thatch. Thatch is made from Palmetto tree leaves that can be bound together to make a roof. In addition to providing protection from the heat and flodding, chickees could be built quickly, thus allowing the Seminoles to establish communities when forced to move from one place to another during the various wars in which they were involved.
The clothing of the Seminole people also was linked to the environments in which they lived. The clothes needed to be made from products easily available and to protect them from the heat. Men wore breechcloth made from leather, which comes from cattle hides. The Seminole Tribe raised cattle, which provided both food and leather. Seminole women wore skirts made from palmetto, which are the leaves from a palmetto tree, native to southern Florida.
In addition, the clothing of Seminole women was characterized by extensive beadwork – often up to 12 pounds of beads on their skirts and tops. Seminole clothing also was known for its colorful and patchwork designs. Seminole men did not wear headdresses like other Native peoples, and often cut all their hair except for a scalplock. Women wore their hair in buns or top knots.
The Seminoles ate food that was readily available either by growing it or catching wildlife. As with many Native tribes, the Seminoles grew corn and squash. The Seminoles celebrated the harvest each year with “The Green Corn Dance,” which included purification and manhood ceremonies. Women were traditionally involved in farming and child care. The Seminole men hunted turkey, deer, fish, alligator, and turtles, which lived in the Everglades.
The tools of the Seminole people were tied to their seeking food. They used bows/arrows, fishing spears and tomahawks – formerly weapons of war – to hunt wildlife. In addition, they used various implements in farming.
The Seminole people often traveled by dugout canoes, made from cypress logs. These canoes provided a means to travel through the swampy Everglades.
Seminole boys and girls often patterned their lives on the roles of their fathers and mothers. Boys went hunting and fishing with their fathers. Girls helped to cook and care for children. Boys also played a version of the Iroquois game of lacrosse and girls played with dolls made from palmetto leaves.
Today, the Seminole people live much like you and me. They live in apartments, drive cars, shop at the supermarket and attend schools. It is important to remember – as I have learned in writing this essay – that these people have a long history that has been marked by wars, living in poverty and being forced to move many times. This is a part of our American history that we must remember.
Source#1: “Native Languages of the Americas” by Laura Redish and Orrin Lewis www.bigorrin.org/seminole_kids.htm, updated 2011.