Native American Tradition Still Thrives In Miami

Native Americans such as Daniella Harari, 18, straddle two worlds a diverse America where pop culture dominates and a world where the customs of her native ancestors live on through ritual celebrations, language and artisan traditions.

Harari, a Kendall Campus student majoring in chemistry calls herself a very Americanized Native American. To add to the mix, Harari’s father is Israeli. On a recent trip to Israel, Harari strengthened her bond with that country and culture. She identifies herself as Jewish.

“I feel like America is somewhat of a melting pot, even though I have Native American background I feel very American,” said Harari. “It’s a new generation, you can’t blame the older generations for what happened in the past, I live an American lifestyle now because I feel like I am American.”

Harari has tan skin with short black hair and dark eyes. She lives close to Kendall Campus and commutes to school every day from her suburban home by foot to class. Her Native American heritage is from her mother’s side.

The Thanksgiving holiday, that marks when in 1621 the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians in Massachusetts shared an autumn harvest feast, does not have deep significance for Harari.

“I have an average Thanksgiving, but I’m a vegetarian so I have like a veggie Thanksgiving, especially no turkey,” Harari said. “I usually celebrate it with my whole mom’s side and many of them are Native American.”

Like in many American households, the Thanksgiving celebration has lost much of its original religious significance; instead, it now centers on cooking and sharing a bountiful meal with family and friends.

“For me, Thanksgiving means getting together with family again and being able to spend time with them—Thanksgiving brings us together,” Harari said.

The nation’s population of American Indians and Alaska Natives, including those of more than one race makes up about two percent of the total people in 2013, according to the U.S. Census. Of this total, about 49 percent were American Indian and Alaskan Native only, and about 51 percent were American Indian and Alaskan Native in combination with one or more other races.

In Miami-Dade County, 0.3 percent of the 2 million residents are Native American with the dominant groups being Miccosukee and Seminole. Ten members of the Miccosukee tribe currently study at Miami Dade College.

Just 30 minutes west of Miami-Dade County, the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians continues to reside in the Florida Everglades. The Miccosukee Indian Village showcases their history, culture and lifestyle with demonstrators and displays of woodcarving, patchwork, beadwork, basket weaving and doll making.

Their history and culture is on display in a museum showcasing historical artifacts. The tribe’s airboat rides explore the vast River of Grass and a typical hammock-style Indian camp that has been owned by the same Miccosukee family for more than 100 years. The Miccosukee restaurant serves Miccosukee fry bread, pumpkin bread, Everglades frog legs, ‘gator’ and catfish, as well as, standard American cuisine.

It is a world apart.

Becky Smith, a professor of dental hygiene at the Medical Campus, worked as a hygienist at the Miccosukee tribe for ten years. She said for many Native Americans the holiday is a reminder of  the attempted genocide — a factual part of our shared and painful history.

“They do celebrate Thanksgiving, not so much because of what it signifies, they do because they give thanks to their creator for what it signifies but not because of the pilgrims,” Smith said. “They use Thanksgiving to give thanks for being able to eat and having a job, [this time] is just another reason to give thanks.”

Although the number one food item on every American’s list is commonly turkey, traditional Native Americans do not consume it on Thanksgiving.

“Culturally it’s taboo to eat turkey, [Native Americans] usually eat ham or chicken, veal, there is no main dish that they have and make whatever they want and serve it,” Smith said. “[Native Americans] believe that you have to earn the right to eat turkey and it is a food reserved for elders, some clans will say that it’s just a dirty bird.”

Smith felt she was able to grasp the Miccosukee culture and their intense need for privacy.

“It was hard to learn about their culture because of their privacy but eventually I did,” Smith said. “[Native Americans] have their own language and during my time there I had to use a translator a lot of the time, however, I think they’re trying to hang on to the language but it’s becoming somewhat lost.”

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Brayan Vazquez

Brayan Vazquez, 20, is computer science and computer network major at North Campus. Vazquez will serve as a forum writer and photographer for The Reporter during the 2014-2015 school year. He aspires to be a tech-based entrepreneur and revolutionize the way kids learn in this new technological era.