Politics | Federal Recognition | World

Dina Gilio-Whitaker: How trip to Cuba helped Miccosukee Tribe

The Indian delegation arrives in Cuba in 1959. Photo from Miccosukee Seminole Nation

Dina Gilio-Whitaker of the Center for World Indigenous Studies explains how a well-timed trip to Cuba helped the Miccosukee Tribe of Florida gain federal recognition:
The U.S.’s deteriorating relationship with Cuba paralleled its deteriorating relationship with Native nations. Termination as federal Indian policy had reached a fevered pitch in 1959, and there couldn’t have been a worse time for a tribal nation to be seeking federal recognition, but this is in fact how things played out for the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida. Truth being sometimes stranger than fiction, the Miccosukees’ relatively obscure story ties them to Fidel Castro’s split with the American government in a brilliant moment of American Indian political strategizing.

In 1954 the Miccosukees were a segment of, but distinct from, the larger Seminole Nation. A bill to determine the readiness of the Seminoles for self-sufficiency (i.e. termination) initiated a fractioning of the tribe. Testimony by Miccosukee representative Buffalo Tiger in congressional hearings for a Seminole termination bill revealed the different cultural orientations of the Miccosukee and began a bid for federal recognition apart from the Seminoles. While the Miccosukees were granted state recognition in 1957, their efforts to secure land and federal recognition were continually thwarted.

A public relations showdown ensued. Hoping to embarrass the government into cooperation, in 1959 the Miccosukees had taken their case to national television, threatened to go to the World Court in the Hague, and even made presentations to the Spanish and British embassies arguing that they retained land under colonial treaties with them.

Forming a pan-Indian coalition with “Mad Bear” Anderson and others, they prepared “buckskin declarations” stating their claims (written on buckskins) and sent one to Fidel Castro. Accompanying the buckskin was a note congratulating him on his liberation of the Cuban people. In response, the Cubans invited a group of Natives to attend the 26 July celebration of Cuban independence in Havana.

Get the Story:
Dina Gilio-Whitaker: When Mad Bear Met Fidel: How Castro’s Cuba Advanced Native Sovereignty (Indian Country Today 7/14)

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