BIG CYPRESS NATIONAL PRESERVE — “It’s never too late to fight. It’s too late if you don’t fight. Warrior up.”
Betty Osceola of the Miccosukee Tribe has taken to social media to protest the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) decision to allow the State of Florida to assume responsibility for the portion of the federal Clean Water Act that governs the filling in of wetlands (Section 404).
The 404 decision could impact all tribes in the United States, she explained in a Facebook Live video on Dec. 16. “Indian territory is about to be taken away.
“Here in Florida, the two tribes have codified rights to these lands,” said Osceola. “But with the stroke of the pen, EPA plans to help the Army Corps of Engineers do away with that and turn over Indian territory — take it away, and give it to the state.”
She explained the Miccosukee Tribe has rights in Big Cypress National Preserve, within Everglades National Park and in Water Conservation Area 3-A. She said they are trying to redefine Indian territory as being only within reservation boundaries. This precedent would allow them to nullify all of the agreements made with tribes throughout the country, she added.
“I’m angry this will take away protections,” she said. She said she knows some are frustrated that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permitting process takes a long time and they want to streamline it. She said she is concerned the state will just “rubber-stamp” plans to dig in or fill in wetlands instead of giving each permit the careful study it deserves.
“My tribe has rights with the federal government and they just want to take it away,” Osceola continued. “Our ancestors always talked about it and as a kid I always heard it ... that one day the government is going to work to corral all of the Indians back in the reservations like they did in the time of the initial settling of the United States.
“They always said that day will come again, but they are going to use a different way to do it.”
She plans a 36-mile protest walk across the Big Cypress preserve on Jan. 2 and 3. She welcomes others to walk with her. “This is approximately 36 miles in two days. I will be camping somewhere along the way. Anyone who decides to walk with me must be prepared and self-sufficient. There will be no support vehicles to shuttle people back and forth,” she explained.
“I will walk by myself if I have to,” she said. “But if you want to protect these lands, you need to stand up.
“If you really love the Everglades, you are going to stand up for it.”