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Love the Everglades symposium focuses on conservation

Sam Tommie addresses the crowd at the third annual Love the Everglades Summer Symposium at the Miccosukee Resort and Convention Center near Miami Aug. 6. Tommie, an environmental activist, speaks about his opposition to primate breeding and testing facilities in Hendry County and gives an update on FPL’s plan to build a power plant just north of the Big Cypress reservation.
Sam Tommie addresses the crowd at the third annual Love the Everglades Summer Symposium at the Miccosukee Resort and Convention Center near Miami Aug. 6. Tommie, an environmental activist, speaks about his opposition to primate breeding and testing facilities in Hendry County and gives an update on FPL’s plan to build a power plant just north of the Big Cypress reservation.

MIAMI — Seminole and Miccosukee citizens joined about 100 environmental activists and politicians to raise awareness for the problems facing the Everglades at the third annual Love the Everglades Summer Symposium. The event at the Miccosukee Resort and Convention Center opened Aug. 6 with an invocation by medicine man Bobby Henry, who grew up in the Everglades.

“Water is the most important thing about the Everglades,” Henry said. “It comes from up north and it used to flow every year. You used to be able to drink it, but today you’re afraid of it.”

Politicians at the symposium cited their efforts to restore the Everglades, ban fracking, and work for clean water. Topics covered by featured experts included pollution leaking from Florida Power & Light’s Turkey Point nuclear generating station into Biscayne Bay, the effort to save the Miami Pine Rocklands, solar energy, oil drilling in the Everglades, Lake Okeechobee’s discharges into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries, and restoring clean water flow into Florida Bay.

Sam Tommie and Betty Osceola spoke about issues that could threaten the Seminole and Miccosukee way of life. Tommie recently filed a lawsuit to shut down monkey breeding facilities in Hendry County, which he says interfere with traditional cultural practices and violate the zoning code for agricultural use. One of the primate facilities is six miles west of the Big Cypress Reservation, just a few yards from the Big Cypress National Preserve, he said.

In July, Hendry County won a lawsuit brought by landowners near the primate facilities who claimed the county violated the state’s Sunshine Law when they approved the facilities without public hearings. Circuit Court Judge James Sloan ruled the farm was no different than a cattle ranch, so it was a routine matter for county staff to proceed and had no obligation to inform the public. Tommie’s suit against the facilities claims they put sacred lands at risk.

“We are warriors for the environment,” Tommie said. “If there is a hurricane, the monkeys can escape and start breeding in the wilderness. We came here years ago so we could live God’s dream and experience the paradise out here. I’m thankful to find friends who will stand up with us.”

Miccosukee citizen Betty Osceola educates the participants at the Love the Everglades Summer Symposium Aug. 6 about the importance of water in the Everglades as emcee Houston Cypress listens from the stage behind her.
Miccosukee citizen Betty Osceola educates the participants at the Love the Everglades Summer Symposium Aug. 6 about the importance of water in the Everglades as emcee Houston Cypress listens from the stage behind her.

Tommie also gave an update on Hendry County’s plan to allow FPL to build an electrical generating facility on 3,127 acres next to the Big Cypress reservation. The comprehensive land-use plan was changed in April, from agriculture to electrical generating facility on the county’s comprehensive future land-use map. The facility will be known as the Hendry Solar Energy Center.

Miccosukee citizen Betty Osceola’s children call her a “professional protester,” a moniker she is proud to carry since she has spent a significant part of her life educating people on humanity’s connection to and dependence on the environment. Earlier this year, she walked 80 miles across the Everglades to raise awareness of the effort to protect and preserve it. Osceola believes the water is a living entity.

“Water is life,” she said. “Since we were kids we were taught we are part of the natural world. When you connect with the elements, you can understand who you are. You are part of the water and it is part of you.”

Osceola believes the decisions made that impact the water will impact everyone and by polluting the water, we are killing ourselves. The elders taught her that water flows south and branches out to the east and west.

“We have amputated its flow,” she said. “The Creator meant for this to be a swampland; nature always tries to reclaim and heal itself but man keeps trying to cut and scar it.”

After Osceola’s presentation, leaders of the Love the Everglades Movement honored her with an award recognizing her advocacy of the Everglades, coalition building between communities, and dynamic multimedia outreach that has inspired people of all ages. The award was made from a cypress tree that is being carved into a canoe in Fort Lauderdale by Pedro Zepeda.

There is only one Everglades in the world. “The Everglades: River of Grass,” the 1947 book written by Marjory Stoneman Douglas, helped attract attention to the need for conservation of the unique ecosystem. The symposium illustrated the need to continue the effort for conservation.

“We want the earth to go on, so we keep fighting and promise God it will go on,” Henry said. “We have to keep working to save the earth for everyone; the animals, people, and water.”

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Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at beverlybidney@semtribe.com.
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