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Seminoles speak out at FIU ‘State of Affairs’ event

MIAMI — The organizers of Florida International University’s Global Indigenous Group continue to collaborate with Seminole Tribal members as part of its initiatives.

The latest example took place April 13, when the school hosted an “Indigenous State of Affairs” panel. It took place in the Graham Center ballrooms on FIU’s Modesto Maidique Campus in Miami.

The event was supported by the Seminole Tribe’s Center for Student Success and Services. CSSS assistant director Alvaro Perez and members of his staff were at the event with an informational outreach table.

The panel featured four Seminoles – Miss Florida Seminole Cheyenne Kippenberger, Rollie Gilliam III, Eden Jumper and Samuel Tommie. The four were joined by Bina Sengar, Fulbright Scholar-in-residence at FIU and Masako Kubota, an instructor in the school’s Asian studies program and department of modern languages.

Florida International University’s Global Indigenous Group hosts a panel discussion April 13 at FIU in Miami. The panel consisted of, from left, Samuel Tommie, Bina Sengar, Masako Kubota, Miss Florida Seminole Cheyenne Kippenberger, Eden Jumper and Rollie Gilliam III. (Photo Damon Scott)

Topics ranged from sovereignty, to the importance of preserving Native languages. Audience members also asked questions about reparations and the controversial blood quantum measurement.

“The Global Indigenous Forum and [its student] club are initiatives to bring the Indigenous voice here to FIU and to South Florida and to the world,” Dennis Wiedman said to the audience of a few dozen people. “Where is the Indigenous voice? What are the Indigenous issues?”

Wiedman is the founder and director of the GIF, which has been in existence for about six years. He is also an anthropologist and associate professor in the department of global and sociocultural studies at FIU.

Meet the Seminole panelists

In her role as Miss Florida Seminole, Kippenberger serves as an ambassador to the public for the Tribe. She is from the Hollywood Reservation and is of the Panther Clan. Kippenberger graduated from Keiser University in Fort Lauderdale with a degree in accounting. She’s in the process of organizing a women’s empowerment symposium to be hosted by the Tribe.

Gilliam works in the advanced career development program at CSSS. He earned his master’s degree 2017 in criminology and criminal justice from Florida Atlantic University.

Jumper, also from the Hollywood Reservation and in the Panther Clan, is an activist on Native issues. He has a passion for land rights, water rights, sovereignty issues and the environment.

Tommie is from the Big Cypress Reservation. He is also an activist who has studied the interaction between tribes and corporations. Tommie argues that much of the interaction isn’t grounded in the traditional core values that best serve Tribal members.

Sovereignty issues

Gilliam, whose career focus is Indigenous college success, started by equating his educational experience and support from the Tribe as intrinsically tied to sovereignty.

Kippenberger agreed with Gilliam’s sentiments and said she credited much of her success in education to the CSSS department.

“I wouldn’t have made it through a lot of the things I had to go through to get my college degree and graduate high school and do so successfully without sovereignty, without recognition of how successful our Tribe has been to create all these departments to help,” she said.

Said Jumper: “We talk about sovereignty in terms of water, land, and of Indigenous People. We are under attack from corporations trying to privatize the resources. Indigenous People live on or near the resources that these corporations want and so it’s a direct threat to sovereignty. Governments and corporations seek to disenfranchise and upheave those communities.”

Native languages

The Seminole Tribe’s Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School on the Brighton Reservation is well-known for its innovative language immersion program – a feature many tribal schools do not have.

“And through the [Tribal] culture department they are doing an excellent job at building community and preserving culture and language,” said Gilliam.

Added Kippenberger: “There’s a big misconception that every tribe is the same – speaks in the same way, has the same clothing – and so it’s important to preserve language to show that those differences exist.”

Kippenberger’s mother is Chilean and her father is Seminole. She said she grew up in a household where Spanish, English and Mikasuki was spoken.

On reparations

Reparations for African Americans sometimes make news depending on the prevailing political winds. The idea of Native American reparations is one that has emerged recently in the run up to the 2020 presidential election.

An audience member asked the panel what kind of reparations they thought would be appropriate.

“What would be appropriate? You can’t put a dollar sign on it,” Kippenberger said. “There are people that were living here before the Europeans came here or the Spanish, there were people, there were lives, there was culture, there was language and you can’t put a dollar sign on top of that.”

Kippenberger said, however, that recognition would be a good start.

“When we go to Washington, when we go to Idaho, when we go to all these places, recognize that we’re on occupied territory.

Ask questions about the people that are from there. Be curious. There’s no amount of money, there’s nothing physical that you can give us except your time, your curiosity, and just to learn about the people and the history – and not from a textbook that you get from a predominately Caucasian institute,” she said.

Added Jumper: “Reparations are a step in the right direction, but also money can never take away the trauma, the strife and the violence [that occurred]. Give us true sovereignty.”

For more

FIU’s Global Indigenous Group will host several events in October, including Indigenous People’s Day (Oct. 8) and “Not a Statistic: Indigenous Women, Global Challenges” (Oct. 11).

To connect with the group and learn about other events, go to indigenous.fiu.edu.

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Damon Scott
Damon is a staff reporter for The Seminole Tribune. Prior to moving to Florida, he was a reporter and editor for print and digital publications in his home state of New Mexico. When Damon’s not working on a story, you’ll probably find him at a hot yoga class or splashing around on some South Florida beach. Send him an email at damonscott@semtribe.com.

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