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The Seminole Tribe of Florida

As reported by the author in the September/October 1993 issue of NAVA News, the Seminole Tribe of Florida is using a flag different from the one documented in Dr. Whitney Smith's "Flag Book of the United States" (FBUS, 262-263). The new flag was supposedly designed by Chief Jim Billie of the Seminole

The Seminole nation actually consists of three bands based in Florida (NAA, 251) and one large group that was forcibly moved west to Oklahoma during the early 1800s by order of President Andrew Jackson. This forcible removal of more than 3,000 Seminole (ENAT, 213-215), plus members of the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Muskogee, and Choctaw nations, has been called the "Trail of Tears" due to the cruelty, harsh conditions, starvation and brutality of the move. For instance, less than 50% of the Cherokee that left Georgia and Tennessee ever made it to Oklahoma.

The Seminole, a term which means runaway, are really a composite tribe made up of members of many nations that fled the onslaught of the white man from their lands in Georgia and surrounding southern states. These Indians were supplemented by the addition of escaped black slaves who were granted sanctuary by the Seminole. The harboring of escaped black slaves brought about what has been called the "Seminole Wars".

These Seminole that remained in Florida continued to fight the government of the United States from their strongholds in the Everglades of South Florida. A peace treaty between the United States and the Seminole of Florida was not signed until 1934.

Of the three bands of Seminole located in Florida today, only one band officially calls itself the "Seminole Tribe of Florida". The others are the "Seminole Nation of Florida", and the "Oklewaha Band of Seminole Indians". Since both the flag reported in Dr. Smith's book and the one currently in use and reported in NAVA News, bear the legend "Seminole Tribe of Florida", one must assume that they are the group that has used both flags and that the current one replaced the former at some time between the 1970s and 1993. No other flags for the Seminole of Florida have been uncovered in the project, and only the current flag of the Seminole Tribe of Florida can be seen flying in Florida

The current flag is similar in design to the Miccosoukee tribe which is a neighbor of the Seminole's Big Cypress Reservation in the south-central portion of the state. Both flags bear the four stripes of white, black, red and yellow. The Seminole of Florida add their tribal seal which, again is very similar to that of the Miccosoukee.

Centered on that seal is a Chickee, the traditional home of the Seminole. The chickee was built on stilts made from Palmetto trees. They thatched roofs were made of the fronds of the same tree. The floor was raised to keep out water and an attic was used to store food and other goods. No walls were built for the chickee, this allowed the maximum air flow to cool the Seminole during the Florida heat. On the large Big Cypress Reservation virtually every home has a chickee on its property. The homes are standard southern Florida ranch style homes, but the chickees serve many purposes.

Some Seminole use there chickees as a cover for a picnic table, others for storage, some use it like a garage. Whatever the use, the chickee is still omnipresent. It acts as a continuing symbol of the Seminole people and an attachment to their heritage.

Unlike the chickee, the only outdoor location on the Big Cypress Reservation where the Seminole flag may be found is at the tribal headquarters, a great contrast to the Okalee Village. This may reflect the environs of the two segments of the tribe. The Okalee Village is surrounded by white encroachment and has a need to stand out from their neighbors. The Big Cypress reservation is in the middle of the upper Everglades and very few non-Indians can be found in the vicinity.

The former flag was dark blue and had a St. Andrew's cross (an X shaped cross) composed of red, white and blue chevrons (FBUS70, 261). This recalled the basic design of the flag of the state of Florida. Centered on the flag was the then current seal which featured the chickee, but several other elements as well. That seal included a palm tree, presumably a Palmetto, since that tree was so important to the Seminole, and a Seminole warrior in a canoe.

One is tempted to recall the letter from the Mohegan tribe in Connecticut when discussing the new flag of the Seminole. The easiest place to see the new flag is outside their Bingo Parlor and casino along U.S. Route 441, a major artery in Broward County, just outside Fort Lauderdale. Along Route 441 there is a long row of alternating flags, United States, Seminole and back and forth for the length of the parking lot. At least a dozen Seminole flags fly at all times. This is the site of the small Okalee Indian Village, the smaller of the two main Seminole reservations. At the western end of this small reservation is the large office complex that serves as the capitol of the Seminole Tribe. In front of the eight story office tower are three flag poles, each bearing large (8'x12'?) flags. The place of honor goes to the United States flag, next comes the flag of the Seminole and finally that of the state of Florida. This is one of the few noted instances where a sovereign Indian nation has been seen to utilize the local state flag. Most tribes simply ignore the flag of the surrounding state.

Could the Seminole have changed their flag in order to have a simpler design to fly outside their major source of revenue?

Whatever the reason for the change, the new flag of the Seminole tribe of Florida gives the Indians of southeastern Florida one unified design element to let the millions of tourists and residents know that their sovereign lands still exist in the same lands they have occupied for almost 300 years.

Don Healy, Bisbee, Az 85603