TRAIL — More than 40 protesters walked an 80-mile stretch across Tamiami Trail from Miami to Naples March 20-25 to step up efforts for protecting and preserving the Florida Everglades.
Carrying signs and banners, demonstrators were out to spread awareness for current hot topic issues before lawmakers that could bring an expansion of oil fields and fracking; a bicycle roadway that would cut through native camps and sensitive lands; permission for amateur archaeologists to collect artifacts from culturally sensitive sites; and rules that would hinder Native Americans from gathering plants for medicine and shelter.
“We can’t stop protesting. We have to stay persistent because once we stop talking and walking, the people who want those things to happen will think we gave up,” said Miccosukee citizen Betty Osceola, one of the organizers of the walk.
The group marched through seven national and state parks and other designated natural lands. Stops at key locations along the way were planned for protest rallies and press conferences.
Several Miccosukee Tribe and Seminole Tribe citizens; Bobby C. Billie, of the Original Miccosukee Simanolee Nation Aboriginal Peoples; and concerned environmental activists and South Florida residents participated.
Leading the demonstration along the shoulder of the two-lane highway were Seminole citizen Samuel Tommie and Ishmael Golden Eagle Bermudez, an independent Native American from Miami who carried the Original Miccosukee Simanolee Nation Aboriginal Peoples’ flag.
“You are here on this journey because you say you believe that people and nature need you,” Billie told the walkers March 23 during a break at Monument Lake. Some protesters rested with their blistered feet wrapped in duct tape.
The site marks the spot where in 1936 about 300 Seminoles led by Josie Billie and Corey Osceola met with local and state leaders in the midst of the Great Depression. The gathering was called to discuss how the government could help assist the Natives “in those trying times.”
According to a memorial sign erected at the site in 1976, the Indians replied, “Just leave us alone.”
Betty Osceola, of the Panther Clan, said the message is the same today.
“We just want to live here. Whenever I come here I feel the heartbeat of everyone before me and I get emotional,” Osceola said. “We value the life of the animals, the trees, the plants, the sky and each other.”
Seminole citizen Ted Billie, who lives in Trail, said the environmental issues threaten all of Florida but will affect Tribal citizens in their own backyards. Most Seminole, Miccosukee and independent traditionalists still fish and hunt for food and collect plants for medicine and shelter.
“We’re just trying to save what’s left for future generations,” he said.
Plans for the bicycle roadway, called the River of Grass Greenway, show the nearly 80-mile stretch would pass in front of Billie’s home. It calls for public safety amenities that include turning lanes, restrooms and street lights.
Billie is concerned that the roadway, meant to bring businesses and sightseers to the area, will also attract gawkers.
“Our families are not tourist attractions. That’s too much,” Billie said.