The Seminole Tribe of Florida is a federally recognized Seminole tribe based in the U.S. state of Florida. Together with the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma and the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida, it is one of three federally recognized Seminole entities. It received that status in 1957.
The Seminole emerged in a process of ethnogenesis from various Native American groups who settled in Florida in the early 18th century, most significantly Creeks from what is now Georgia and Alabama. These settlers distanced themselves increasingly from other Creek groups, and expanded and prospered owing to their thriving trade network during Florida’s British and second Spanish periods (c. 1767–1821). During the Seminole Wars against the United States in the 19th century, however, most Seminole were forced to relocate west of the Mississippi River. A smaller group – possibly fewer than 200 – refused to leave Florida and moved deep into the Everglades, where they fostered a culture of staunch independence. The modern Florida Seminoles and Miccosukee descend from this group.
The Florida Seminoles re-established limited relations with the United States and Florida governments in the late 19th century, and eventually received 5,000 acres of reservation land. At first, few Seminoles had any interest in relocating to reservations, preferring their traditional lifestyle to a more sedentary reservation life. Following the efforts of Creek Christian missionaries, more Seminoles moved to reservations in the 1940s to form their own churches. Other factors in the move include Florida’s drainage of the swamps and shift toward agriculture, and the depletion of game and other resources by the state’s expanding population. A reservation-based tribal government was formed, and received federal recognition in 1957.
The formation and subsequent actions of the reservation-oriented tribal authority caused friction with a more traditional group living along the Tamiami Trail, known as the Trail Indians. The Trail Indians formed their own government and sought federal recognition as the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida, which they received in 1962.
The Seminole Tribe of Florida is led by an elected tribal council comprising representatives from its reservations. The current Chairman is Chief Jim Billie, who was re-elected in 2011 after previously serving from 1979 to 2003. The tribe has four reservations: Big Cypress Reservation, Brighton Reservation, Hollywood Reservation (formerly Dania Reservation), and Tampa Reservation. As of 2000 there were around 2000 enrolled members, with over 1,300 living on the reservations.
The Tribe oversees the community’s business ventures. They found their first major success with the opening of a tax-free cigarette shop in 1975. Following this they decided to pursue a high-stakes bingo operation on their land, which in 1979 became the first major Indian gaming establishment in the United States and paved the way for dozens of other tribes to increase their revenues with gambling. These two enterprises remain the Tribe’s primary sources of income. Other significant economic factors include citrus and cattle farming on Brighton and Big Cyress Reservations, tourism, and forestry.
Most members of the Tribe speak the Miccosukee language, which is also spoken by the Miccosukee Tribe, although it is extinct among the Seminoles of Oklahoma. The Creek language is spoken by some members, especially on Brighton Reservation.