Legislation Would Create Pathway To State Recognition For Florida Native Tribes

Written By TJ McBride on February 9, 2023
Native Florida tribes could gain state recognition under proposed bill

More Indigenous tribes in Florida could apply for recognition from the state if new legislation makes it into law. Republican Michele Salzman is sponsoring a measure that would help Florida’s Native tribes preserve their cultures.

The only path for Native tribes to gain state recognition is to have proof of 100 years of tribal recognition by the federal government. The federal government only recognizes two Florida tribes. The Seminole Tribe and the Miccosukee Tribe. Therefore, the state government only recognizes those two tribes.

House Bill 553 would push to recognize local tribes as well. But the proposal also creates infrastructure and a pathway for other Native tribes to petition the state of Florida for recognition.

Most Florida tribes could not gain state recognition until 2064

The Seminoles and Miccosukee both operate casinos in Florida. The Seminole Tribe owns and operates six casinos, while the Miccosukee operates a seventh. However, HB 53 does not address the expansion of tribal gaming. 

The only pathway to state recognition right now is to have 100 years of proof of recognition. That would take until 2064 for most tribes. There is no other path to state recognition for Florida tribes. The Florida Indian Removal Act of 1853 essentially removed any chance for Creek tribes to openly live their traditional lifestyles or even identify themselves by their tribe.

The legislation forced their practices and cultural heritage underground and hidden from the government for the last 111 years. But the 1964 Civil Rights Act superseded the 1853 legislation. According to Salzman, there was still no path to recognition.

“While the Act of 1853 was the beginning of the end for many of our Native people, it has been us, the Natives, who have let our own people down.  The fighting amongst our own has suppressed our ability to thrive as a Creek Nation.”

Legislation is about preserving culture

Santa Rosa Band of the Lower Muskogee Chief Dan Helms said HB 53 is about preserving tribal culture.

“We are in a battle to remain culturally intact. We are willing to do the work. State tribal recognition will give us access to the tools necessary to do the work of preserving our culture. … The past cannot be changed, but the future can.  We are not seeking to claim sovereignty that comes with federal recognition.  We are not asking for any financial commitment.”

According to Salzman, HB 53 has nothing to do with tribal gaming in Florida. She said it does not in any way create a pathway toward tribal gaming expansion in Florida. The intention of the bill is to “provide the opportunity for tribes like The Santa Rosa Band of the Lower Muskogee to access historical resources as well as provide validation to the centuries of Native Americans who have lived in Florida.”

“While we do not all agree on business practices, historical decisions, or even on territories alone, we can agree on this. We can all agree that our culture is dying, our ceremonies, our history, and our language are all fading.  To preserve our history, our culture, and our language, we must find a way to work together.  While we don’t have to agree on territories, we can agree that our rich cultures and history need to be preserved.  Creating a pathway for recognition is a great first step in preservation.

Photo by Shutterstock.com
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TJ McBride

T.J. McBride is a writer and reporter based in Denver. He covers the gaming landscape across multiple states in addition to his main beat covering the NBA's Denver Nuggets. His NBA work can be found at several major media outlets including ESPN, FiveThirtyEight and Bleacher Report.

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