Settler-Colonialism and Environmental Degradation in the Everglades Featured

Wednesday, June 24 2020 Written by

It is going into week five of my internship with the Latino Heritage Internship Program and Everglades National Park. It is nearly impossible to believe that my experience is nearly halfway through and yet I am well aware that I am in the thick of things. I have gotten to know the park’s history, through my readings, and have encountered the park in-person, through hiking expeditions into the park’s key ecosystems and places of interests. What has become ever-present in my findings, and moving forward into my curriculum, is the ways in which land use is interconnected with settler colonialism [a form of colonialism which seeks to replace the original population of the colonized territory with a new society of settlers (Oxford Bibliographies)]. Through broken treaties, disease and genocide, European and American imperialism/colonialism, both literally and figuratively, changed the landscape of the Everglades (not to mention much of the rest of this hemisphere).  

In what could be described as the “natural” state of the Everglades (for which we will be describing its conditions pre-European arrival)*, took up most of what we call South Florida. The headwaters of the Everglades begin at a chain of lakes just south of what we call Orlando and flow into the Kissimmee River. From there, the water flows into Lake Okeechobee, and the shallow and slow-moving water trickles down through the Everglades and empties into the Florida Bay to the south, Biscayne Bay to the east and the Gulf of Mexico to the west. The expansive ecosystem hosted several variety of habitats (pine rock lands, lakes, hardwood hammocks, creeks, prairies, lagoons, marshlands, water bogs, ridges, estuaries, sloughs, rivers, mangroves, cypress forests and swamps) and in those habitats lived a variety of unique fauna and flora (snail kites, bald cypress, manatees, bromeliads, crocodiles, royal palm, wood storks, strangler figs and Florida panthers, etc.). However, to date, the size of the Everglades (an area which once covered approximately 16,000 square miles) has been reduced to half that size due to agriculture and development. Such expansion coincided with the deliberate suppression, containment and removal of the Seminole and Miccosukee tribes, an already displaced people (due to the Indian Removal Act of 1830) from what we call Georgia and Alabama, by the United States. This would ultimately lead to conflict via the Seminole Wars. Such tactics to invade and control came from the very same ideology which would lead to the building of dams, flood gates, canals, roads and levees. The results of which would disseminate the ecology of the Everglades through the diversion of freshwater flow from its natural course (which supplied the various Everglades ecosystems) and the introduction of invasive plants/animals.

This idea of divine right and, both, racial and anthropogenic superiority of colonial rule would leave its mark on the very same Everglades which we see today. To the unknowing eye, one would see the landscape as just a natural world devoid of human interaction, but, in reality, South Florida bears a long history of bloodshed and injustice as much as it does environmental degradation and species loss. As i’ve stated before, and will continue to do so, “nature” is not separated from us as human beings. The mistreatment of nature in the Everglades (and the natural world as a whole) is merely a mirror, a reflection into the ways in which the colonial and imperialist white European powers of Spain, France, Britain and later the United States have sought to control, contain and eradicate the Indigenous people and enslaved Africans in this hemisphere. To avoid such truths would be negligent and complicit.

*This does not suggest or promote the idea that indigenous populations did not have any impact on their environment. Rather it is to say that there is no evidence to suggest that populations such as the Calusa and Tequesta (who would eventually be forced to flee the region in 1763 due to disease and displacement) significantly depleted the region’s natural resources as Europeans and Americans would later do.

Read 310 times Last modified on Friday, 26 June 2020 12:54

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