Gabriela Danger | Staff Writer
Getting a fully informed understanding of history is something that involves all kinds of views and documentation of experiences. The indigenous point of view is one that, with changing times, has had a lot more spotlight on it recently.
Author, environmental scientist, and historian David Rahahę•tih Webb of the Tuscarora tribe gave the first-ever talk on his new book, The Spanish Seminole on Jan. 17 at FIU’s Green Library.
His book is meant to highlight “an indigenous perspective” on the history people may have learned in school, according to Rahahę•tih Webb, as told by research he did on his family tree.
“With respect to the current Seminole and Miccosukee communities of today, everything shared here was reviewed by friends in the community and I was told they were kosher things to share, but this gives a very different perspective. It’s not the same perspective that you’re used to reading about when you read about the Seminole War, or Seminole Wars, as Americans call it,” he said during the event.
A significant angle of this book is meant to use “decolonizing methodologies”, part of which is re-legitimizing oral histories, in this case of native people.
Using such histories is one way to do this and show its value in research, like what was being done for The Spanish Seminole.
The book focuses on the group of people who were the Spanish Seminoles, i.e. people who, according to the author, were one of the four independent indigenous groups of southwestern Florida. They were a fluid group, who went between the other communities themselves.
Juan Montes de Oca, Rahahę•tih Webb’s direct ancestor, is one important individual whose life and impact are discussed in the book.
He was a Spanish Seminole man who, when the Spanish came and occupied, had to make a hard choice. He decided that to stay on his ancestral land in Florida and not be displaced to Oklahoma, he would stay and work as a translator of indigenous languages for the Spanish. Many indigenous people across Florida and the rest of the U.S. were sent to Oklahoma during this time.
Montes de Oca was an influential part of Rahahę•tih Webb’s research and part of his inspiration for writing the book. The last name is still in circulation today, in many different places, including Florida.
One audience member even said he knew some people bearing the name, wondering if they too were descendants of the Spanish Seminoles.
Webb commented that the family “had a couple of branches in Cuba”, and that there was a chance they were, like him, distantly related to the group as well.
Exploring this underrepresented aspect of indigenous history through his genealogy and his ancestors’ connection with other notable indigenous historical figures is exactly the story he wishes to tell and put out for the world.
“This is an important part of the region’s history, seeing that my family’s baptismal records were among the first documented births in all of southern Florida, I was like, ‘This needs to be shared’. So their story is being shared, but also this part of history nobody knew about before,” Webb said when asked about his research method and writing about the story.
To learn more about The Spanish Seminole, follow FIU’s Global Indigenous Forum on Instagram, @fiu_gif.