The Right to be Self-Defined and Self-Determined

Bobby Bille Council of the Original Miccosukee Simanolee Nation Aboriginal Peoples

Bobby Bille Council of the Original Miccosukee Simanolee Nation Aboriginal Peoples

Guest Commentary

Published August 6, 2015

In support of the Council of the Original Miccosukee Simanolee Nation Aboriginal Peoples

One of the greatest challenges that we face as Native peoples is the idea that someone else has the right to define us. The United States operates on a mistaken and entitled belief that they have the authority to validate our existence through their own manufactured specifications. This warped sense of entitlement has been enshrined into their law through the federal recognition process. Under U.S. law, only those tribes who have been “recognized” are entitled to the rights and protections established for Indigenous peoples. The belief that we must be “approved” before we legally exist assumes that we didn’t exist before others arrived to define us. It’s narcissistic madness. (This is as absurd as the question: “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”)

Big Cypress National Preserve

Big Cypress National Preserve

There are many Indigenous peoples who have made a conscious decision to avoid entering into a political relationship with the United States government. They have chosen to stand on their own laws and way of life, without allowing others the authority to validate their existence through biased and superficial measures. Insisting that their rights are dependent on the federal recognition process is nothing more than a form of strong-armed extortion. The U.S. uses this extortionist tactic to punish those who refuse their colonial practices by denying them access to their sacred places and way of life, and by denying them subsistence and sustenance rights. This is no different than historical attempts to starve Native people into compliance with attempts to assimilate them.

We have to wake up and realize that when we give the U.S. government the authority to define us; to establish the parameters of our existence; to determine our sacredness, and; to determine the boundaries of our territories, we are also giving them the authority to take all of that away. None are safe from these continued attempts at genocide and assimilation unless all are safe. It is imperative that we all stand united, and support those Indigenous peoples who have resisted interference by the colonizing government and stood upon their own way of life.

One group that has resisted colonization is the Council of the Original Miccosukee Simanolee Nation Aboriginal Peoples of Florida. They have refused to enter into a political or contractual relationship with the United States. Instead, they have simply continued to exist as they always have on their traditional homelands, in accordance with their cultural and spiritual way of life. As a result they have been constantly attacked and pressured to assimilate. The U.S. is denying them their basic human rights and their rights as Indigenous peoples, claiming that these rights do not exist because they have failed to engage the Federal Recognition process.

To claim that a group of Indigenous Peoples do not exist without the recognition of the United States is an arrogant and legally flawed assumption. The Original Miccosukee Simanolee people have maintained and defended their way of life, which includes their Aboriginal land rights and all other rights afforded Indigenous peoples, since the Europeans first arrived on their lands. In the early 1800’s, the Council of the Original Miccosukee Simanolee Nation entered into an Agreement with the United States government. This Agreement was signed by President James Polk in 1845. This Agreement recognized their rights to their homelands, and their right to remove any non-native people that entered onto their territories. They have never ceded those rights, nor have they ever broken that Agreement with the United States. Unsurprisingly, the United States has repeatedly broken the terms of this Agreement.

Sherri Mitchell

Sherri Mitchell

Additionally, the Act creating Everglades National Park (48 Stat 816 – May 30, 1934) also recognizes the ongoing Aboriginal rights of the Simanolee peoples. It states “that nothing in this Act shall be construed to lessen any existing rights of the Seminole Indians which are not in conflict with the purposes for which the Everglades National Park is created.”

Since the Council of the Original Miccosukee Simanolee Nation Aboriginal Peoples never ceded the inherent rights given to them by the Creator, they retain the rights to their lands, territories and sacred places, along with all Aboriginal Land Rights, including Aboriginal Title rights and all other rights afforded Aboriginal and Indigenous Peoples. These rights are not given to them by the United States, but are the result of their continued relationship with their homelands as well as their ongoing social structures, and their political and legal systems. These rights require no recognition or permission from an outside source, they originate with the Creator and they have never been ceded.

The United States has a long history of recognizing these rights, as evidenced by hundreds of legal agreements entered into with Tribes across the country. To now claim that these rights only exist after these agreements have been made is a legal contradiction.

The Miccosukee Simanolee elders state that: “for the future of all life, the people of the United States must accept full responsibility for the damage and desecration of the lands, waters, wildlife and sacred places, and for their continued violation of the rights of Aboriginal Indigenous Peoples.”

I agree with them, which is why I am doing what I can to assist and support them.

If you would like to join me and support the rights of the Council of the Original Miccosukee Simanolee Nation Aboriginal Peoples, to maintain their way of life on their homelands, please write to the National Parks Service and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, demanding that they stop denying the rights of these people to live unmolested on their own territories and in accordance with their cultural and traditional beliefs and way of life. And, demand that the United States will fully uphold the Agreement that was signed by President Polk. By doing so, you help protect their rights to continue living on their own lands; their right to harvest medicinal plants and food sources, and; their right to subsistence and sustenance hunting and fishing. They don’t want money or infrastructure, all they want is to continue to live where they have always lived and in the sacred manner that is most meaningful to them.

Send comments to:

Jonathan Jarvis, Director
National Parks Service
Office of Tribal Relations and American Culture
1201 Eye Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20005

Pedro Ramos, Superintendent
Big Cypress National Preserve
33100 Tamiami Trail East
Ochopee, Florida 34141-2000

Dan Kimball, Superintendent
Everglades and Dry Tortugas National Parks
40001 SR 9336
Homestead, FL 33034-6733

Kevin Washburn, Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs
United States Department of the Interior
Bureau of Indian Affairs Indian Affairs
1849 C Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20240

Sherri Mitchell (Wena’ Gamu’ Gwasit) was born and raised on the Penobscot Indian Reservation. She is an Indigenous Rights attorney, writer and teacher. She’s been an adviser to the American Indian Institute’s Healing the Future Program and the Spiritual Elders and Medicine Peoples Council of North and South America. Sherri speaks around the world on issues related to Indigenous rights, nonviolence, and the traditional Indigenous way of life. Sherri is the Director of the Land Peace Foundation, an organization committed to protecting Indigenous Rights and the Indigenous Way of Life.

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