On our way back from the Skunk Ape Research Headquarters, we knew we’d have to stop at Miccosukee Indian Village as they had billboards up and down the road of what appeared to be a man karate-chopping an alligator, and that is absolutely the sort of thing I pull over for or risk regretting it for the rest of my days. I was so enthralled by the prospect of nearby gator-chopping that I didn’t really stop to think about participating in Native tourism. If someone wants to tell me about their culture, I’m in. I want to hear as much as they want to tell me. But I want to avoid any situation where it feels like people are putting themselves and their culture on display because they have to do it in order to survive. I really should have given it some more thought before pulling over.
The Miccosukee Indians were orignally part of the Creek, but migrated to Florida before it became part of the United States, joining the Seminoles. In order to avoid being removed to the west, about 100 Miccosukee escaped and hid in the everglades; today’s tribe numbers around 600 and are their direct descendants. The village you tour is not where the tribe actually lives, and while it was their choice to create this village for tourists, I couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable about being there. We arrived and immediately had to make a snap decision about whether or not to take a guided tour as “one just left”. We decided to take the tour, and ran to catch up, but in retrospect, we shouldn’t have. When you enter the village, there are a few Natives on display doing demonstrations of patchwork and basket weaving. I don’t want to make any assumptions about the tour guide’s heritage, but based on her consistent use of “them” and “they”, it seemed like she didn’t personally identify with the tribe and that added an extra-gross sideshow sort of feeling. Very “step right up and check out these people who aren’t like you! Some of them still live in huts!”. What’s worse is that she didn’t seem to be very educated on the subject she was telling us about; she’d walk from station to station saying one or two rushed, clipped sentences about it and then asking “any questions?” in a manner that discouraged you from actually asking anything, before hustling everyone to the next station. For example, “This is a tribe member doing an example of patchwork like the way they would back in the day. Some of these patches have meaning and some don’t. Any questions?” The entire tour was less than ten minutes (possibly under five), after which we were released to our own devices. We decided to wait around at the alligator pit for the next show, since that’s the thing they were heavily advertising, and we were both glad we did. The young man who did the show was not bound to the “Florida cracker” mannerisms the way they are at Gatorland, so we learned a lot more about alligator anatomy…but we were also told that crocodiles don’t have tongues, which isn’t the case, so it’s possible that this anatomy lesson included a side of “dumbass tourists will believe anything.”
However, one of the factoids that bore out was that alligators have difficulty seeing things that are directly in front of their snout, which enables the aforementioned gator chop–the demonstrator can place his entire hand inside the alligator’s mouth and be fine so long as he doesn’t accidentally touch anything that would cause it to snap its jaws closed. This is not something I would do, as I would be too busy pooping myself at the discovery that there was no barrier separating us. I don’t even like clipping my dog’s toenails and he’s unlikely to actually bite the hand that feeds him no matter how much he fusses.
After the show, we got another opportunity to hold a young alligator, which promptly peed when the handler picked him up, causing a wave a moaning and chatter among the other (mostly French and German) tourists. Jason, however, was not afraid of a little gatorade.
All in all, I’m still not sure how I feel about visiting Miccosukee Indian Village. I’m glad that any money we spent there goes to the tribe, and while they probably don’t feel exploited by people like me walking in and gawking, I felt wrong. It definitely set a weird tone for me in terms of the contrast between the village and the stupid expensive hotel we were staying in for the weekend; that these people were forced into a swamp so some rich white guy could become even richer off of the more tourist-friendly land. What’s your stance on this sort of tourism? Is it ok to visit these places or is it more exploitation on the back of genocide?