Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Trail of Tears - Trail of Ostriches

My mom always said "you're only disappointed by your expectations". As an Everglades guide, the Seminole Nation to me has always represented perseverance and the 3000 member tribe has always had my respect for their ability to adapt and thrive in the inhospitable Everglades. A trip to the famed "Billie Swamp Safari" on the Big Cypress Indian Reservation (Click for satellite view) chipped away at that notion and I'm left wondering about what is being sold to the public in the middle of the Everglades.

The Seminoles haven't always inhabited this area. They actually descended from several tribes belonging to the Creek Federation of tribes that traditionally lived in the Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia areas. During the early 1800's President Andrew Jackson used the Indian Removal Act, a shameful piece of legislation, to forcibly remove Native Americans from their tribal lands. While many Seminoles were forced to reservations in Oklahoma, hundreds fled into northern Florida where they were pursued by the US Army. Over the course of three Indian Wars (the last ending in 1858) the US Army spent many millions of dollars pursuing and battling Seminoles throughout the state. The US Army ceased hostilities, leaving them to starve in the swamps of the Everglades, with the expectation that the remaining 300 Indians would eventually become extinct.

They didn't. They survived, thrived, were the first tribe to have legal gambling in the US and just recently purchased the Hard Rock Cafes for 964 million dollars, becoming the first indigenous tribe in the world to buy a global corporation.
It's not outlandish to say they have on one hand been wildly successful and on the other hand suffered a culture crash all at once. Which brings me to my latest adventure in the middle of the Everglades. At work I am constantly reminded that the biggest, baddest and most adventurous trip you can take is at Billie Swamp Safari on the Big Cypress Reservation. So, on my trip home from Fort Lauderdale on Monday I drove 25 miles off of Alligator Alley to see what everyone is talking about. Over the course of the many years I have guided in the Everglades, I have created an elaborate Indian village in my head, with Cypress Swamps and Alligators surrounding the Chikee huts the natives live in. I was wrong. Instead I found what looked like a Fort Lauderdale suburb plopped in the middle of the swamp. Normal homes, ATVs and Hummers parked in the driveway. The swamp is not supposed to look like this! To assure the complete destruction of my image, I took my first Swamp Buggy ride. A Swamp Buggy is like a super-sized ATV for 20. It can go through 6 feet of water and mud and so we did, but what we encountered was far from the Everglades experience I expected.Our guide slowed the buggy and exclaimed with faux shock at the sight of a Red Deer from Europe!
I don't know what the heck this is, but it doesn't belong in the Everglades. (edit - It's an Eland - from Africa)

Ok this was amusing. As the guide barked at the bird, it became enraged, causing legs and neck to turn bright red. Ostriches in the Everglades...why! WHY!

I was the only one, or so it would seem, that was annoyed by the guide passing up the native Glossy Ibis for one of the more destructive little beasts in Florida. There were pigs with babies and more babies with pigs and babies and babies and mothers and babies. Pigs everywhere. Just what we need. The people were delighted.

This I can handle. Bison once roamed the plains of Florida. Actually not that long ago. The last Bison was killed in Florida sometime in the mid-1800s. There are 300 of these roaming the mud holes and sloughs of the reservation now.

Oh I guess I can handle this one too. Am I going soft? I mean it is a Water Buffalo. It makes sense to see one of these here even though it's half a world away from home.

Ironically, the caged animal is one of the few natives on display here at Billie Swamp Safari; the Florida Black Bear. It's not dancing because it's happy.

I'm now disenchanted. Where is the true culture of the Seminoles? Where is the true representation of the Everglades! This is what people are spending their money on! This is my competition! And they call this an Eco-tour! ACK!

Of course this is only a part of the reservation. I have yet to visit the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum. Soon enough.

Not a very funny blog today. Hope you weren't disappointed. But what did you expect?

1 comment:

  1. Maybe they can send some of those pigs to China. There's a huge shortage there due to illness causing price increases in pork and leather. We're just sittin' 'round waiting for the piglets to grow up so we can eat 'em and wear 'em. No joke!

    -l'il sister