OCHOPEE — Despite having to battle hordes of mosquitoes and blistering feet, a group of concerned citizens from across the state gathered for a 36 mile “Defend the Sacred” prayer walk through the Everglades to bring awareness of their opposition of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) decision to turn over the 404 permitting process to the state of Florida. The walk was organized and hosted by Betty Osceola, Houston Cypress, and Garrett Stuart through the Eco Preservation Project.
“EPA is approving the State of Florida’s assumption of dredge and fill permits on all lands state and federal,” explained Osceola, leader of the prayer walk and the “EPA is approving for the Federal Agency to hand over permit authority in the Big Cypress National Preserve and Everglades National Park. Also in doing this EPA is allowing the definition of Indian Territory/Country to be re-defined at the objections of the Indian Tribes here in Florida and abroad. In essence undermining tribal sovereignty and diminishing the size of tribal lands.”
“This allows the opportunity for more oil pads and roads to get to those oil pads to be built and rip away our resources. This will devastate these lands and waters and all the humans and creatures that inhabit this area,” explained activist Cat Chase, one of the prayer walkers.
Environmental educator, activist, and protector, Garrett Stuart, also known as Captain Planet to his many supporters, met with his aunt, Betty Osceola, along route 41 on the morning of January 2 and prayed together before they marched silently.
“Keep federally protected lands federally protected. That’s what the tribes want. That’s what those who appreciate nature want. We love our National Parks and Preserves,” Stuart explained.
Participants ranged from a wide variety of ages, backgrounds, and organizations, but all came together in defense of the Everglades.
“Someone asked if I had arranged for the two medicine flag bearers, and I replied, ‘Creator will send who is meant to carry the flags. He sent the Eagle and the Condor.’ The flag bearer on the right was of the Eagle and the left was of the Condor on both days,” said Osceola. “It was good to see American Indian Movement (AIM) came and stood, prayed and walked with us, and it was meant to be to have one of the rainbow carry the Miccosukee Flag. It takes a village of take care of Mother Earth, together the rainbow shines on another day.”
The prayer walk ended in the evening on January 3, with the group erupting with loud cheers and screams as they ran together circling each other, flags ripping in the moonlight. This was a powerful, symbolic ending for the prayer walkers. “In the days leading up to the walk and during the walk I kept seeing a vision of the prayer walk closing as a Nautilus, and did as Creator guided,” Osceola described. “The chambered nautilus is one of the oldest creatures known to survive in the earth’s oceans. It is a symbol of nature’s grace in growth, expansion, and renewal. It is also a symbol of order amidst chaos as reflected in its spiral precision.”
The organizers of the Defend the Sacred ask anyone who is concerned about the EPA’s recent and upcoming decisions regarding 404 permitting to contact Commissione Nikki Fried Nikki.Fried@FDACS.gov or by phone at 850-617-7700.
“Let her know you support her decision that EPA should not turn over 404 permitting assumption to the State of Florida,” said Osceola. “However you enjoy and recreate in Florida’s natural areas if you don’t stand up now, you will end up with less of those places to enjoy.”