HENDRY COUNTY (CBSMiami) — The Seminole Tribe of Florida says they have not received any of the 1,400+ Seminole remains or the tens of thousands of artifacts from a Washington D.C. museum.
An hour west of Fort Lauderdale and miles north of Alligator Alley is Big Cypress, the largest Seminole Tribe reservation in the state.READ MORE: North Miami Beach PD Needs Help Locating 15-Year-old Jeimy Henrriquez
For natives like Tina Osceola, this land is the fabric of who they are.
“We’re the gateway to the Everglades,” says Osceola. “My family has always had a kinship with where we come from”
It’s a sacred space not only for the living, but for those who came before them.
With a past rocked by violence, the tribe says those who paid the ultimate price are not at peace.
“we’re raised with the stories of how our ancestors fought to survive, and this is a continuation of that genocide,” says Osceola, who heads the Seminole Tribe’s repatriation effort.
Osceola says they have been waiting over a decade to get back the remains of their ancestors along with Seminole artifacts from the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.
“What they are doing is basically creating obstacles for tribes to get their ancestors back and we want them held accountable for that,” says Osceola.READ MORE: Former US Rep. Carrie Meek Passes Away At 95
Federal law already protects the remains and artifacts of recognized tribes in the U.S., and this revised repatriation policy released in 2020 from the Smithsonian allows tribes to bring home remains and artifacts that are culturally un-affiliated.
The Seminoles viewed this revision as a big step to get their ancestors back.
“We have a legal responsibility under the repatriation laws to consider the evidence because we want to make sure that remains are returned to the right tribe, says Dr. Bill Billeck, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.
Dr. Billeck, the head of the Smithsonian’s Repatriation Department, says many of the remains in their possession from Florida need further assessment to correctly identify which tribe they came from.
“We want to work with the tribe, we’re committed to returning these remains it’s just a question of time right now and we ask for their patience,” says Dr. Billeck.
Even now archeological surveys happen on the daily across the Big Cypress Reservation.
If artifacts are found their collected but if human remains are found they’re documented and kept right where they are.
“There’s a sense of desperation and panic because the ancestors being where they are, they’re not at rest,” says Osceola.MORE NEWS: Officer Injured, Suspect Dead Following Coral Gables Police-Involved Shooting
Osceola says the Seminoles have waited long enough, but Dr. Billeck says it’s still hard to say when these remains and artifacts will return home.