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Indigenous activists notch victory at Jupiter property

Indigenous activists celebrate after the town of Jupiter’s Historical Review Board voted unanimously Feb. 16 to deny a permit for a developer to dig at a site containing Indian mounds. From left to right are Robert Rosa of the American Indian Movement, Jupiter resident Jessica Namath, Seminole tribal member Martha Tommie, Miccosukee tribal member Betty Osceola, Garrett Stuart and Glenn Bakels. (Courtesy photo)

Native American activists, including Seminole tribal member Martha Tommie, Miccosukee tribal member Betty Osceola and Robert Rosa (Taino) of the American Indian Movement, notched a victory Feb.16 when the town of Jupiter’s Historical Review Board denied landowner Charles Modica a permit to dig on property which is known to contain multiple Indian mounds.

“We won this victory,” Tommie said. “We have ancestors all over the state. We will work our way all through the state.”

Modica purchased the property for $16 million in 2013 with plans to develop it. The 10.4 acre property, formerly the Suni Sands trailer park, is located where the Loxahatchee River meets the Jupiter Inlet.

Suni Sands is known as the first village in Jupiter, which developed after the dock for the Celestial Railroad was built in 1889. The narrow gauge train connected Jupiter Inlet to Lake Worth, about 7.5 miles to the south. Native Americans lived in the area for hundreds of years, according to the Jupiter Inlet Foundation; artifacts found by archeologist Bob Carr, of the Archeological and Historical Conservancy, confirm it. Rosa said he and others have been trying to get the permit denied for about a year and attended numerous board meetings to raise awareness.

The Historical Review Board meets monthly and tabled, or delayed, the issue for five months. Debi Murray, chairwoman of the board, said they delayed the decision so the town could attempt to acquire the property to preserve it. The town and Modica have discussed a potential sale. Rosa, Tommie, Osceola and others attended the Feb. 16 board meeting and applauded loudly when the board voted unanimously to deny the permit.

“The townspeople were there with us,” Rosa said. “It was very important that the decision was made that night.”

There were no noticeable mounds in the Suni Sands trailer park, which was built in the 1940s.

“Everyone was aware of the mounds, so they left [them] in the ground and built on top of them,” Rosa said. “Back then, that was the norm.” Rosa said Carr, who was hired by Modica to investigate the site, wants to excavate.

“We want no digging at all, we want the site preserved as it is,” Rosa said.

Days after the meeting, Rosa reflected on the victory and said it was a small win, part of a much larger battle. The group’s effort in 2022 led to a similar victory in Micanopy, where their activism stopped a retail store from building on a parcel of land containing remains. The land was purchased by the county and turned into a park.

The next battle may take place across the street from the Miami Circle on Brickell Avenue in downtown Miami. Remains were found after a building was demolished and archeologists began excavating the site. A hearing about bringing construction digging to a halt is scheduled to be held in Miami on April 4.

Martha Tommie, right, receives a hug from a supportive Jupiter resident after the Historical Review Board denied the permit.
(Courtesy photo)
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