Tequesta People, Met Square, and the Fight for History — The North Star Project Reports, sponsored by The Middle Ground Journal. By Dennika Mays

Tequesta People, Met Square, and the Fight for History — The North Star Project Reports, sponsored by The Middle Ground Journal. By Dennika Mays

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In 2013, a developer, MDM Group, was working at Met Square (a site in downtown Miami) and made a shocking discovery. Their original plan was to dig up the area, set the foundations, and build some commercial spaces such as a movie theater, shopping plaza, and a grocery store. But during the course of their digging, they unearthed the remnants of a prehistoric Tequesta village.

The Tequesta people were a Native American tribe that had lived on the southeastern Atlantic coast of Florida since the third century B.C.E. This tribe built their livelihood at the mouth of the Miami River, where the Miami River meets the Atlantic Ocean. This place is of huge historical importance because it was a place of intersection. The Tequesta people had contact with Native American peoples in the Caribbean who would come to the mouth of the Miami River for trading and political purposes. Additionally, many tribes from the northern parts of the U.S. would travel down various river waterways and would follow the Miami River down to where it meets the Atlantic Ocean to trade and interact with other tribes. Unfortunately, the Tequesta people were killed by various Europeans who moved into the area.

The site in downtown Miami contains artifacts and roughly 3,000 human bones. These bones have been carbon dated by archeologists to about 600-500 B.C.E. Upon digging up the bones, MDM Group proposed to allot 25 percent of the property to the preservation of the site and then build on the rest of the property. Their proposal was to devote a small piece of the land to carve out and display some of the artifacts from the Tequesta village.

There were many hearings about this site, as community members, archeologists, activists, scholars, students, and teachers all came to speak against building on the site. This site could possibly be one of the most significant sites of Native American artifacts in the country, and this developer wanted to build right on top of it. Furthermore, prior to buying the land, the developer was informed of the fact that the area was historically occupied by the Tequesta people. MDM Group knew that it was likely they would find some remains, but they pushed forward with the project.

On February 14, 2014, I attended a hearing at City Hall to fight against the developers trying to build on the remains. I was there with about 80 to 100 other community members who all wanted to see the site preserved. The lawyer for the developer spoke for several hours and talked about the “primitive” Tequesta people. He spoke about how they “didn’t wear shoes,” how they “didn’t treat their women right,” and how they wore “loin cloths.” He often referred to them as “Indians” and not Native Americans, which is the correct terminology. . All of these remarks were to devalue the findings of the site and justify building on top of them. The lawyer talked about the potential money that could be made and the potential tourists that would frequent the place if there was a hotel and movie theater, as opposed to artifacts of an “Indian village.” The lawyer even whitewashed some historical facts by saying that the Spaniards who killed the Tequesta people so many years ago “were trying to save them” with Christianity.

But what this lawyer was saying doesn’t just reflect on him. In fact, he was using tactics used by most Europeans since they first came into contact with Native American people: 1) downplay their historical significance and/or historical achievements 2) attack their worth as human beings by attacking their character 3) place them in opposition to ‘modernity’ and ‘progress’. When I was listening to the lawyer talk about the Tequesta people, his attitude and word use made it sound like the Tequesta remains were “getting in the way” of “development” and “progress.” “This isn’t the Stonehenge,” he said as he was trying to justify the destruction of the site. It made me angry and frustrated to hear him talk about the Tequesta people as though they were a nuisance.

But what was really at stake was history. And more importantly, what really needed to be asked was this; “Whose history do we tell and who gets to tell it?” The history that the lawyer told during the hearing is the history that many Eurocentric history books tell of Native American people: they were “savages,” “primitive,” “outdated,” “dirty,” and that they “needed to be saved.” But this is not the history that Native American people have of themselves. When the developers wanted to carve out 25 percent of the land for the display of some of the Tequesta artifacts, they wanted to tell a version of history that wasn’t reflective of reality. Furthermore, the developers didn’t contact or involve the local Native American tribes in the planning of this display. They wanted to tell the history of a Native American people without first consulting Native American people. As a result, the local tribes here in south Florida, the Miccosukee and Seminole tribes, sent a representative to speak at City Hall to ask the developer why the Miccosukee and Seminole people were not contacted in the planning phase of the development.

But, finally, after ten hours of testimony, advocating, and arguing, the board had to make a decision. We had been at City Hall since 8 a.m. and it was about 7:30 p.m. by the time everyone was done speaking. The board members took a moment to think, write a few things down, and then made their decision: the developer would not be allowed to build anymore at Met Square. They decided 6 to 7 that any further building at Met Square had to incorporate 100 percent preservation of the site. Furthermore, one of the board members noted that he was “highly disappointed” and “appalled” at the way Native American people were talked about on that day.
Everyone was so excited. We had stopped a multi-million dollar project dead in its tracks, and the developer was required to preserve the site and unable to pick and choose what it wanted to keep from the remains. We still have more work to do as MDM Group plans to appeal this decision. The war to save this site isn’t quite over, but we won a significant battle.

For the Ancestors
For the Elders
And for Future Generations
AHO!

Please contact Professor Liang if you wish to contribute to The North Star Project Reports — HLIANG@CSS.EDU

For all of the North Star Project Reports, see https://mgjnorthstarproject.wordpress.com/

The North Star Project Reports: The Middle Ground Journal’s collaborative outreach program with K-12 classes around the world. We acknowledge North Star Academy of Duluth, Minnesota as our inaugural partner school, and the flagship of our K-12 outreach program. We also welcome Duluth East High School, Duluth Denfeld High School, Dodge Middle School and other schools around the world to the North Star Project. The North Star Project has flourished since 2012. For a brief summary, please see the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at:

http://www.historians.org/perspectives/issues/2013/1305/Opening-The-Middle-Ground-Journal.cfm

https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/january-2014/embracing-oa-universities-adopt-open-access-policies-for-faculty-journal-publications

The Middle Ground Journal will share brief dispatches from our North Star Project student interns, particularly from those who are currently stationed, or will soon be stationed abroad. Student interns have reported from Mongolia, Southern China, Shanghai, northeastern China, The Netherlands, Tanzania, Ireland, England, Finland, Russia, and Haiti. We also have students developing presentations on theatrical representations of historical trauma, historical memory, the price individuals pay during tragic global conflicts, and different perceptions of current events from around the world. We will post their dispatches here, and report on their interactions with the North Star Project students and teachers.

Hong-Ming Liang, Ph.D., Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal, Associate Professor of History and Politics, The College of St. Scholastica, Duluth, MN, USA

(c) 2013-present The Middle Ground Journal. See Submission Guidelines page for the journal’s not-for-profit educational open-access policy.

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19 Comments

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19 responses to “Tequesta People, Met Square, and the Fight for History — The North Star Project Reports, sponsored by The Middle Ground Journal. By Dennika Mays

  1. Great article with a great outcome. As stated in the article, some individuals in our culture speak poorly about the Native Americans and strip them of their dignity. Why was it previously acceptable to downplay the Native Americans historical significant and value as a human being in the United States?

  2. mking12

    I think it is sad to find out that a company that wants to build a hotel or movie theatre thinks it is more important to build that then preserve history. These buildings are not even necessary to human life they are just added for enjoyment. I think it would be easy to find somewhere else then create a whole fight like MDM did.

  3. Cali Stabe

    This is fascinating, it’s amazing how much time as gone by and building around the Tequesta village without even knowing it was underneath us. And it is crazy that some people do not understand that historical cites are critical to our countries history and especially the Native Americans.

  4. Matthew Rider

    I think its irresponsible to destroy such an important piece of Tequestan history. The discoveries that can be made from this site is much more important than any buildings that could possible be built there.

  5. Robert Ochs

    I’m not sure why the developers acted the way they did. To talk about any race or ethnicity as being primitive and so on is just not okay. I’m also sure they could have worked out a deal so that they could get some sort of reimbursement for the land so that a museum or historical site could be built.

  6. Annie

    It is appalling to me that someone, let alone a large group of people would disrespect another culture like that. Have we learned nothing from history?! It is extremely rare to find something as untouched as these artifacts, and instead of being excited about the opportunity to learn from this discovering, there was actually a movement to destroy it! WOW!

  7. Jonia G

    While I think that the terminology of Native Americans is debatable based on tribes (some prefer Indigenous Peoples), I thought this was a wonderful read. It’s fantastic to see that people are able to stand their ground in what they believe is right and succeed with determination and solidarity. I thought the section in which you brought up the tactics used by the lawyer was a great weaving of the past and present. Thank you for sharing; Miigwech

  8. I am surprised that the lawyer for the developer did not use a more tactful approach in his efforts to protect the interests of his clients. He must not have been a very good lawyer! The story is uplifting because it speaks to the power people have when they band together for a common cause. It speaks to the responsibility of modern society to honor, protect and preserve sacred places. It gives us hope that every now and then the underdog wins the day.

  9. Ada

    What an inspiring article. Although it’s incredibly sad and pitiful to see people succumb to such archaic mentalities in an attempt to make profit, it’s incredibly admiring to see people like you take a stand and succeed.

  10. Nick Kaplan

    That was a very uplifting article to read. Many of the stories that I hear today are of people destroying lands with almost no resistance but these group of people got the job done. I was glad to see that the city hall people did not listen to the lawyer who was trying to downplay the significance of native culture.

  11. Morgan Young

    This is great victory! Too often are important archaeological sites dismissed as unimportant and the history of those people are lost. Everyone’s history deserves to be told. Their way of life or race does not give them more or less importance.

  12. Kendra Johnson

    what an amazing thing to be apart of! It takes a lot to stand up for something you believe in and this was a very good cause and reason to stop the building. If more people stood up to keep our historical sights like this in tact we could learn a lot more about it from it’s time.

  13. Rachel Studley

    This was a wonderful article and thank you for sharing your experience! I’m also glad that so many people showed up to the board meeting to help fight against the company wanting to build over it. I agree completely with the board member who said that they were appalled at how the Native American people were talked about.

  14. Tommy Traaholt

    I really enjoyed reading this article, it made me feel good knowing that the right thing i happening all over the place. I agree 100% with your justification. Sacred land should be kept sacred and untouched because it is history, and the ancestors of those people definitely deserve the preservation of the land.

  15. Cassidy Jayne

    Thank you for sharing! What a great experience to learn from and share with others. The power of the people is something usually vastly understated. Sacred land is just that- sacred, and should be treated as such- separate from capitalism. Great insight.

  16. Jimmy Lovrien

    Wow, I forget that there are people who still speak like that lawyer did in public. But this article presents a perspective that I hope people close to the discussion were aware of. That is, the historical context and systematic racism he expressed. It was clear a city council member did, but I hope the entire public was aware of what the lawyer said. This piece would serve well as an op-ed around the issue.

  17. Tabetha Filzen

    I am so glad that the project was stopped and I hope that the place can be truly restored and preserved. It is horrible to know that there are still people who would do anything to get what they want. Even disrespect a whole people to the point of ridiculousness. I am glad too, to know that a board member even spoke out against the way the Native Americans were spoken about.

  18. Carley Nadeau

    Thank you for sharing your experience, this was a wonderful article. It presents a perspective that people need to be aware of. There was so many great points, such that this land is sacred and should be respected and systematic racism still exists today. It is good to know that people fought back and didn’t let corporate greed win.

  19. Ashley Kittelson

    Unfortunately, there are many examples of historical Native American sites being developed into commercial properties. The author notes that the board decided future development of the site would have to include preservation of the site. Since this article was published in 2014, construction of a multi-use apartment building has begun. The building will include a large theater, several shops, and a museum exhibit on Tequesta culture. In an attempt to honor Tequesta culture, building designers intend to decorate in a “tribal chic” fashion. However, many critics point out this is instead an insulting form of cultural appropriation. A compromise between development and preserving history is necessary, but this solution discounts Tequesta culture.

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