I had a very enjoyable time this weekend at the Swamp Safari for the Big Cypress Shootout. But for me, there were some glaring problems with interpretation. Not from the event and the staff, which did a wonderful job, but from other reenactors.
Overall for the appearance of the camps, I think that they were fine.
Unfortunately, some of our reenactors are getting off track and out of focus with their interpretation. We were there to interpret the Seminole War. We were supposed to portray a Seminole encampment. We are not there to portray Creeks; there is a difference. Some of you need to read Swanton, and Brent Wiseman "Like Beads on a String", who have written on the differences between Seminole towns and Creek towns.
Remember that during the Second Seminole War, that the Creeks were the enemy. They had been since the First Seminole War when Jackson brought down a Creek regiment under William McIntosh that looted and burned Seminole towns. During the Second Seminole War, the regular army organized a regiment of 759 Creek warriors, and the territory of Florida had a company of Friendly Creeks from north Florida. During the 2nd war, the Seminoles seemed to go to great effort to kill the Creeks allied with the U.S.
Yes there were a few small bands of Creeks in north Florida who sided with the Seminoles. They did not play a large role in the war and were not part of the action in south Florida. Overall, the vast majority of the Creeks were U.S. allies.
We were not there to interpret Mound Builders. Mound builder activities in the Seminole war encampment are not appropriate. Flint knapping and making atlatls are not something that Seminoles did in their camps in the 1830s. Maybe a separate camp needs to be organized for those who make and demonstrate these ancient arts.
I feel that a different approach should be made while interpreting a Seminole encampment on the reservation. These people know their culture at a level that non-tribal members will never know. So we don't need to tell them what we think is their culture or traditions. We probably look pretty silly to them. So I believe that the focus needs to be a snapshot of events that were going on about 1840. What it is like surviving in the everglades.
What you need to know and portray are events that are current in 1840. What was going on at the time? Where you were hiding and why? What fishing camps and settlements were in Florida? Where you went to trade and your relationship with the whites and slaves in Florida?
I caught one guy talking about his Creek group in central Florida, and called them, “my tribe.” I am sorry, but your group does not fit the definition of a tribe. And the Seminole do not recognize your group as a tribe, and saying such is only insulting to them. That will turn them off immediately.
Are some of you even aware of your image that you are portraying? Do you not think what the Seminoles are thinking of your silly interpretation? You are interpreting their ancestors, but in my opinion, you are way off.
The majority of us who do these reenactments and living history are Native American descent. When we take on the identity of Seminoles in the 1830s, we need to know the difference between what they were back then, and what we interpret as our own cultural traditions that we practice today. I know this is hard to do.
Maybe I will offend people with what I said here, but we need to think about where we are going with our own interpretation presentations. I have been doing this for 25 years, so I hope that I am not too off track on my opinion.
I have met a lot of native people who really hate what we do. One Miccosukee lady said to me, “They are just killing Indians all over again.” This woman already has her mind made up, and nothing I can do will change her opinion. But I think it is important to know why she thinks that.