The Seminole are a Native American people originally of Florida. They comprise three federally recognized tribes and independent groups, most living in Oklahoma with a minority in Florida. The Seminole nation emerged in a process of ethnogenesis out of groups of Native Americans, most significantly Creek from what are now northern Muscogee. The word Seminole is a corruption of cimarrón, a Spanish term for "runaway" or "wild one".
During their early decades, the Seminole became increasingly independent of other Creek groups and established their own identity. They developed a thriving trade network during the British and second Spanish periods (roughly 1767–1821). The tribe expanded considerably during this time, and was further supplemented from the late 18th century by free black people and escaped enslaved people who settled near and paid tribute to Seminole towns. The latter became known as Black Seminoles, although they kept their own Gullah culture of the Low Country. They developed the Afro-Seminole Creole language, which they spoke through the 19th century after the move to Indian Territory.
Seminole culture is largely derived from that of the Creek; the most important ceremony is the Green Corn Dance; other notable traditions include use of the black drink and ritual tobacco. As the Seminole adapted to Florida environs, they developed local traditions, such as the construction of open-air, thatched-roof houses known as chickees. Historically the Seminole spoke Mikasuki and Creek, both Muskogean languages.
After the independent United States acquired Florida from Spain in 1819, its settlers increased pressure on Seminole lands. During the period of the Seminole Wars (1818–1858), the tribe was first confined to a large reservation in the center of the Florida peninsula by the Treaty of Moultrie Creek (1823) and then evicted from the territory altogether according to the Treaty of Payne's Landing (1832). By 1842, most Seminoles and Black Seminoles had been coerced or forced to move to Indian Territory west of the Mississippi River. During the American Civil War, most of the Oklahoma Seminole allied with the Confederacy, after which they had to sign a new treaty with the U.S., including freedom and tribal membership for the Black Seminole. Today residents of the reservation are enrolled in the federally recognized Seminole Nation of Oklahoma, while others belong to unorganized groups.
Perhaps fewer than 200 Seminoles remained in Florida after the Third Seminole War (1855–1858), but they fostered a resurgence in traditional customs and a culture of staunch independence. In the late 19th century, the Florida Seminole re-established limited relations with the U.S. government and in 1930 received 5,000 acres (20 km2) of reservation lands. Few Seminole moved to reservations until the 1940s; they reorganized their government and received federal recognition in 1957 as the Seminole Tribe of Florida. The more traditional people near the Tamiami Trail received federal recognition as the Miccosukee Tribe in 1962.
The Oklahoma and Florida Seminole filed land claim suits in the 1950s, which were combined in the government's settlement of 1976. The tribes and Traditionals took until 1990 to negotiate an agreement as to division of the settlement, a judgment trust against which members can draw for education and other benefits. The Florida Seminole founded a high-stakes bingo game on their reservation in the late 1970s, winning court challenges to initiate Indian Gaming, which many tribes have adopted to generate revenues for welfare, education and development.
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