It has been more than 500 years since Christopher Columbus mistakenly identified the indigenous peoples of the Americas as “Indians”, and yet that name has remained the popular collective label for the many hundreds of nations more accurately identified by their own names, such as Arawak, Pequot, Lakota, Yaqui, Quechua, and Navajo. Many of these nations have ceased to exist, the victims of disease, war, enslavement, and cultural genocide. Others have come into existence as dispersed and diminished peoples have merged to make new nations. Still others have persisted in their identity to this day, enduring beyond hope as distinct peoples. All of those things describe the Seminole Nation, which now resides in the states of Oklahoma and Florida. The Seminoles did not become a distinct people until late in the 18th century, when remnants of the Muskogee (Creek) and other peoples of Florida and what is now Georgia and Alabama combined to form a new nation. The Spanish called them cimarrones, meaning runaways, or free people. This term referred to the fact that the tribe included many escaped slaves, both African and Native American, who had joined with others from broken, scattered tribes. In the Muskogee tongue, cimarrones became semulon-e, and eventually Seminole.
This people who originally were not a people soon developed a strong sense of national identity which compelled them to resist all efforts to conquer them. They fought against the Spanish, the English, the Creeks, and, inevitably, the Americans. Three bitter wars from 1817 to 1858 left the Seminole Nation broken and divided, but still unconquered. Most of the surviving Seminoles were removed by the United States government to Oklahoma, but a remnant remained in the swamps of southwestern Florida, where they remain to this day. The Florida Seminoles are unique among Native American peoples in that they alone have never signed a treaty of peace with the United States. Those who were removed to Oklahoma may have agreed to peace with the U.S., but they maintained a fierce independence in their new land. Efforts to integrate them into the Creek Nation of Oklahoma met with determined resistance. In time the Seminole remnant in Oklahoma reestablished their tribal identity, and today exist as a separate and distinct nation.
It may come as a surprise, but the greatest story in the Bible is about a nation created from a people who were not a people. The tale begins with the account of Joseph and his brothers, but the story as yet has no ending.