I recently took trip with my husband; I accompanied him on business to Santa Fe, New Mexico. While I was there, I visited the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture. The museum focused on the remarkable Pueblo people that had originally settled along the Santa Fe River because of its water and transportation. The museum was gifted telling stories, and it got me thinking about the native people who lived around Lake Okeechobee, and how their story is not so well told.
(Adapted from, The Boyer Survey: An Archaeological Investigation of Lake Okeechobee, 2011)
In the fall of 2006, the South Florida Water Management District lowered Lake Okeechobee as a hurricane was expected, but it not come. Much to the District’s dismay, severe drought came instead. As the water in Lake Okeechobee evaporated, its depth went from a normal (at the time) of 18-20 feet to a recorded low of 8.8 feet. Although this was a negative for the ecosystem, it allowed human remains and artifacts of what is referred to as the “Belle Glade Culture” to be exposed. Artifacts and bones began to comprehensively reveal their stories of *pre-Columbian (*before the arrival of Columbus to the New World) times. These native americans over a period of 2,700 years built extensive earthworks and canals, adapting the surrounding wetlands to be suitable for their people to live. The Lake, of course at that time, more than supported their hunter-gatherer-fisher lifestyle and complex culture. The Belle Glade Culture was part of a greater exchange network and traded with other groups from distant locations.
These Native Americans living around Lake Okeechobee were the descendants of people who migrated to the peninsula approximately 12,000 years before. Out of that small group of prehistoric nomads developed an array of cultures that spread across Florida that eventually contained hundreds of thousands of inhabitants. Like Santa Fe’s Pueblo, they were a remarkable culture. However, unlike the Indian cultures of the west, many of the Florida native people, and especially the Belle Glade people, are not well-known.
These ancient people of the water are the muffled voice of Lake Okeechobee ~just as the voice of the lake itself that is now dammed, diked and controlled. May the Belle Glade people, and the heart spirit of Lake O be revealed…
Although we do not know what these people looked like a visit to the Lawrence E. Will Museum of Glades (https://www.museumoftheglades.org) by appointment is a great place to start. Also artist Theodore Morris, has spent his life trying to recreate these related people:
Florida’s Lost Tribes,Theodore Morris: https://www.losttribesflorida.com
Video Florida Anthropological Society: http://www.archaeologychannel.org/video-guide/video-guide-menu/video-guide-summary/168-shadows-and-reflections-floridas-lost-people
Palm Beach County Historic Society, Belle Glade Culture:
Kissimmee Valley Archaeological and Historic Conservancy: http://kvarchaeology.com/blueberry_archaeological_site/