Seminole Tribe, Independent Traditionals, and Environmentalists Fight for Life in South Florida

by Thomas Walker / Earth First! Newswire

The proposed power plant near Big Cypress Reservation will likely be a carbon copy of the one recently built in West County.

On the edge of the Big Cypress Reservation in South Florida, Florida Power and Light (FPL) is setting plans in motion to build a new power plant.  However, at every step, the company is facing resistance from a broad coalition that is concerned with the health of the air, water, land, animals, and people.  In the courts, public hearings, and protests, opposition to FPL is growing.

Concerns regarding FPL’s plans in South Florida are numerous—including concerns about the safety of the water, the processes of resource extraction necessary to drive the plant, and health effects on surrounding communities both on and off the reservation.  According to Danny Billie, Spokesperson for the Independent Traditional Seminole Nation of Florida, the struggle is ultimately for life—human, animal, plant, and insect.

For all these forms of life to continue, water is necessary; however, the FPL plant will potentialy use up to 22 million gallons of water every day—drained from Florida aquifers, and turned into waste.  “The water is vital to all life on earth,” Danny explained, “It is the very essence of life, and they want to contaminate it….   They’re not really thinking of their future generations when they do something like [build a power plant].  I’m pretty sure the long-term effect is going to be devastating, but it’s going to be a slow process.  They’re going to say, ‘it’s not going to harm anything.’”

Upholding All Life

As an Independent Traditional of the Seminole Nation, Danny has been working with tribes and nations, both nationally and internationally, to protect undeveloped and undisturbed areas.  These lands, Danny understands, are the “life-givers.”  “It takes one little destruction in the life cycle to start and to never end.”
Danny Billie and Frank Billie Jr., a Seminole Tribal Member and formerly a Traditional, are both clear that the struggle is not simply for the Seminole people, but for all life. “Not just human life, but all life,” says Frank, “Somebody has to be [the animals’] voice, and I would like to say that Traditionals are voicing their voice.”

To stop the destruction of the Seminole Tribe, Independent Traditionals of the Seminole Nation—who continue to practice traditional ways of life and are independent of the federally recognized Seminole Tribe—are joining forces with environmentalists.  Last year, the Seminole Tribe successfully sued Hendry County for their attempts to rezone land near the reservation, which would likely be used for the power plant. Lawsuits between the Seminole Tribe, Hendry County, and FPL continue; meanwhile, other tactics, such as speaking out at public hearings as well as different forms of civil disobedience, are being used to halt plans for the proposed power plant.

photo: Lannis Waters, Palm Beach Post

photo: Lannis Waters, Palm Beach Post

One act of civil disobedience took shape on Monday, February 24, when Earth First! activists organized a protest outside Florida Power and Light Headquarters in Juno Beach.  There, five protesters locked their necks together with U-locks (U-shaped bicycle locks), refusing to move until police were able to extract them by cutting the locks.  The action at FPL headquarters blockaded the entrance for over two hours, and was taken in order to disrupt the business of FPL and, most importantly, to draw attention to the threat of poisoned air, water, and land in South Florida. Frank Billie Junior of the Seminole Tribe was excited about the protest, saying that it was “awesome” and that he “was really disappointed not to be present.”

The day after the protest, Seminoles and environmentalists attended a public hearing regarding the rezoning of Hendry County.  At the hearing, in which county commissioners proposed to rezone the county for industrial use, the concerned attendants were unanimous in their opposition to the proposal.  While the commissioners assured the attendants that the rezoning did not reflect any changes relevant to FPL’s power plant plans, many left with their voices unheard and their concerns unaddressed.  Frank Billie Jr., a Seminole Tribal Member, reflected that “from the lawyers’ perspective, [the county commissioners] were correcting what they didn’t do as to why the Seminole tribe was suing them.  To correct that, they had the public hearing.  They said that [all of] Hendry county was rezoned for industrial use.”

Sharing Skills, and Standing Together

The coalition amongst activists and Seminole people has so far included several environmentalist groups, including Earth First!, Sierra Club, Audubon Society, South Florida Wildlands Association and the Everglades Sawgrass Warriors.  “The coalition building has been great,” said Frank Billie Jr., “The Independents have a great report with Earth First!, and we are going to have a training about tactics.”

“The environmental people coming together to help [stop the plant] is good. It’s real good.  It’s the kind of support we need to give each other,” said Danny of the blossoming coalition.  “There has been a little bit of action, but more needs to be done.  We need to make the general public aware.”

Led by the Seminole Tribe, from April 17-20 the groups are holding a four-day march from Big Cypress Reservation to Labelle.  All people are invited for the whole 68-mile march, or however they can support.

For life to endure, Danny argues, action must be taken now to stop the destruction. “We want a greater chance, when we pass on to the other side, to leave something for the next generations to see and enjoy like we have.  What we do and say has a lot of effect on the future generations, so hopefully people will wake up and join us.”
Below is a speech given by Stephanie Hall at the County Commissioners meeting in Hendry County on February 25: Stephanie’s speech:

Good evening,

My name is Stephanie Hall.  I am a member of the Toad Clan, which goes back thousands of years on this land.  This meeting is happening on occupied and stolen land and without the forced removal and genocide of my people this meeting is not possible.  As far as I’m concerned, the only rezoning that needs to be done that could be justified is for all the land to go back into the hands of the indigenous people who have been here for thousands of years.  In order for your institution to not contribute to your institution’s five-hundred-year long history of racism and genocide against indigenous people, you must first have close direct negotiations and discussions with the traditional indigenous people.
    You are accommodating neocolonialism and environmental genocide.  You are attempting to circumvent the pending litigation brought by the Seminole Tribe.

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