** Disclaimer: The models in this video and any photos below are NOT the interviewees in the writing pieces **
By Sam Cohen
Spanish moss suspended from elderly trees, the sun setting behind your hand-me-down car at Paynes Prairie, crystalline springs beguiling enough to compel anyone to believe the folklore inspired by them. The land of the Timucua and Seminole tribes is beautiful enough to bring anyone to tears.
This image is at odds with stereotypical depictions of Florida in mainstream media and tempts one to question the true roots of the land they call home. Dear Reader, acknowledging and honoring the roots of your home, or your home away from home, supersedes the comfort of choosing to never learn whose land your school, workplace, and community sits upon.
Even though the city of Gainesville, FL was established in 1854, the land has a rich history that precedes the city’s founding. While there are several Gainesvilles throughout the country (eight to be exact), Gainesville, FL is the largest. Our Gainesville is named after Edmund P. Gaines, an American military officer who served with distinction during the War of 1812 and aided in the arrest of Aaron Burr.
Gainesville’s namesake is remembered as uniquely passive, particularly when it came to Native American relations. This clashed with President Andrew Jackson’s and General Winfied Scott’s harsher regard for Native Americans, and possibly hindered Gaines' advancement in the military as a result.
In the early 1800s, there were disputes over contrasting interpretations of the language in the Louisiana Purchase. As a result, the relations between Spanish Floridians, other European colonists (who were already divided as either Loyalists who supported British rule or Patriots who rejected it), and Native American tribes were especially strained.
Gaines and his forces were placed in charge of keeping the peace between these groups, with Gaines advocating against the invasion into the remaining Muscogee Creek land that wasn’t ceded to the United States from Native Americans per the Treaty of Fort Jackson.
He was also against the overall displacement of Native Americans from their ancestral homeland in the Southeast to land in the West. He’s remembered as a “pacifist” military leader, having advocated for the reputed greater humanity in opting to convert Native Americans to Christianity over military action. While this belief was progressive for this time period, missionary work by European colonists was still destructive to Indigenous culture and society — but first let’s set the scene.
It’s the late 16th century. To put this era into context, Galileo Galilei was born in 1564, the Gregorian calendar was introduced in Europe in 1582, and William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet was published in 1597.
At this point in history, the Potano people, who were a part of the Timucua, lived here in what is now Alachua County at the beginning of European contact. The land of Florida was subject to Spanish colonial expeditions, so by the time Spanish colonists had made their way here, they had already been to St. Augustine in 1565. It wasn’t until about 1595 that Spain started sending missionaries to Native American communities throughout the region, with bilingual books (written in both Spanish and the local Indigenous language) being published as early as 1612, largely to aid in missionary and colonial efforts.
While many colonial efforts were largely entwined with missionary efforts, the way that different colonial powers approached Indigenous languages varied.
Dr. George Aaron Broadwell, the current Elling Eide Professor of Anthropology at the University of Florida, specializes in Native American languages, particularly those in Mexico and the Southeastern United States.
He spoke on the nuance between different European colonists and their priorities in what would later be known as the United States.
“The Spanish missionaries who were in Florida, Mexico, the rest of Latin America… were very interested in translating Christian documents into the Indigenous language, which meant that they had to learn something of their grammar… write dictionaries and materials like that…. The English seemed to have no interest in doing that. They wanted to preach to Native Americans, but they wanted to preach to them in English mostly… with few exceptions.”
This distinction is attributable to the different approaches of Catholicism and Protestantism towards evangelism, as English Protestant missionaries were not as interested in language translation or documentation as Spanish Catholic missionaries were. Despite the remaining Indigenous documents that have been preserved, many were still lost.
Dr. Broadwell noted, “When Florida went from being a Spanish colony to an English colony and then an American state, there was a lot of chaos. A lot of documents were burned or lost during that time… [the] English were not very respectful of documents written in Indigenous languages."
The relationship between Native Americans and Christianity is complex. Some Christian missions were peaceful, and some Native Americans, such as Kahgegagahbowh even became missionaries themselves. However, the impact of evangelism on Native Americans wasn’t homogenous. Missionary work was still largely disruptive to Native Americans. Missions consisted of aims by European colonists to to “civilize” non-Christian Native Americans through a variety of means: including forced conversions and compulsory attendance of Indigenous youth to “American Indian Residential Schools'' through acculturation to speaking the English language and celebrating the Christian religion in rejection of their Indigenous ones. Morally justified by the “Doctrine of Discovery,” European colonists also cited their own religious superiority as legal precedent to claiming land that they had “discovered.” The ceding of the Timicuan land that Gainesville exists on to different colonial powers is not excluded from this doctrine.
According to the Upstander Project, an organization that educates the public about decolonization: “If an explorer [proclaimed] to have discovered the land in the name of the Christian European monarch, plants a flag in its soil, and reports his ‘discovery’ to the European rulers and returns to occupy it, the land is now his, even if someone was there first. Should the original occupants insist on claiming that the land is theirs, the ‘discoverer’ can label the occupants’ way of being on the land inadequate according to European standards."
The “Doctrine of Discovery” has perpetuated white supremacy and Christian hegemony in the U.S. through this false idea of white Europeans being savior-like mechanisms of what they deemed to be God’s divine design.
Dr. Broadwell’s work includes providing Native Americans with written materials in their Indigenous language, with dictionaries being in particularly high demand. In the United States, he’s working with the Choctaw Tribe in Mississippi on a language documentation program. With consultation of the Seminole Tribe of South Florida, he’s created a dictionary and is close to finishing the grammar of the traditional language of Gainesville, Timucua.
In Mexico, Dr. Broadwell works on two languages: Zapotec and Triqui. There, he’s currently working on making historical resources and the Zapotec language available to modern Zapotec people, as well as publishing Triqui writings and creating an audio dictionary for Triqui people.
According to him, the earliest stages of providing Native Americans with written materials is consultation and consent. Not all Native American tribes want these materials and even if they do, opening up their communities to outside scholars who can provide these resources is a decision that is dependent on trust.
The process of consulting with different Native American groups about their language involves first talking to different Indigenous communities and developing a relationship with them. The people who are directly involved in providing these resources depend on the project at hand, but oftentimes involve university professors and their students who have technical skills with linguistics and computers.
According to Dr. Broadwell, the present and future is very promising for providing written materials for endangered languages due to the technological advancement of cellphones. “People can now have an audio dictionary of their language on their phones, [which] eliminates a lot of the cost associated with the traditional model of printing things in an Indigenous language in a book,” Dr. Broadwell said, let alone the distribution of said books. Working on digital books not only makes them far easier for people to access, but they can more easily be updated as words change or are added to the language.
It’s important to note that records created by European colonists are inherently biased. They are written from a European perspective that depicted Native Americans as 'savages' that needed to be civilized and other derogatory terms.
Dr. Richard S. Conley, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Florida, spoke about the relationship that Native Americans have with the land and how there isn’t a word in the Navajo language for the concept of 'private property.' Dr. Kenneth E. Sassaman, an archeologist and professor at the University of Florida who researches hunter-gatherer societies in the Southeastern United States, commented on the conjunction of private property and homeland for Native Americans. “We take for granted that property is a concept that all people would hold, but property is really a concept that arose out of the post-Medieval peasant economies of Europe," he said, and today it’s an instrument of capitalism.
Dr. Sassaman explained, “If you turn a resource into a commodity, which can be bought and sold into the marketplace, you’ve alienated people from it.” This is because people are no longer connected to the land beyond their ownership of it as property, so that land can now be sold to a new buyer.
Dr. Sassaman said that early encounters with European colonists were chaotic for Native Americans, both because of their presence as well as the diseases they brought from Europe for which Native Americans had no natural immunity to. Native Americans had never been exposed to illnesses such as measles and smallpox, which can be subtly spread through indirect, seemingly innocuous transmitters such as blankets. These diseases alone had a devastating impact on the social fabric of Indigenous communities, killing an estimated 90% of the Native American population–which is estimated to have originally consisted between 90-114 million people between 1492-1600.
Geographic displacement, the Trail of Tears being one of the most notorious series of them, by the budding United States government through laws such as the Indian Removal Act largely didn’t just disrupt Indigenous communities’ relationship to the physical environment. This displacement and missionary work simultaneously impacted their relationship to the land as well as their relationship to religion. “Ultimately, their religion was land-based, so if you disrupt their relationship to the land, you’re disrupting an entire belief system,” said Dr. Sassaman. This made moving forward a matter of survival that is grappled with to this day.
Every person living in the U.S. owes its existence and vitality to generations of Indigenous people. The history of the land of North Florida too often overlooks the complexity and beauty of the Timucua and Seminole tribes. So Reader, next time you’re taking in the sunset at Paynes or tubing down the Ichetucknee, take a moment to honor the people who were there first. Honor the roots of wherever you are.
Aaron Burr was the third Vice President of the U.S., he killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel, and was charged with treason for allegedly conspiring to instigate a war between the United States and Spanish Florida.
Most white colonists were from the British Isles, some were from other places such as Germany.
Galileo Galilei was the astronomer whose scientific observations helped prove Copernican heliocentrism (the cosmological model that depicts our Sun being at the central point of our solar system), leading the Catholic Church to place him on house arrest for the rest of his life
Kahgegagahbowh (who later changed his name to George Copway) was an Anishinaabe writer and an international literary celebrity. He challenged the racism in Victorian and Romantic literature and utilized his fame to fight for the rights of Indigenous people across North America.
From 1838-1839, the Trail of Tears is a series of deadly paths that Native Americans were forced to take after being forcibly removed from their ancestral lands. From 1838-1839, the Trail of Tears is a series of deadly paths that Native Americans were forced to take after being forcibly removed from their ancestral lands.
La Casita: A Model for Inclusion
By Patrick Grey
Finding a place to call home in college can be daunting, especially if someone has just moved from a place of familiarity to a school with 30,000 other students. This struggle is especially the case with individuals in the Hispanic-Latinx community.
The difficulty of finding a place to call home exists when there is no identifiable place for community members to convene.
The University of Florida, as it has come to be known, was established in Gainesville in 1905. Forty-nine years later, in 1954, two buildings at 1510 and 1504 University Avenue were purchased by the university with the intent to repurpose these spaces for change. The building at 1504 University Avenue became the International Center, and it would house the UF English Department over the next forty years.
In 1971, amid student protests, the Institute of Black Culture was created in the adjacent building with the purpose to create, promote, sustain and affirm Black scholarship, culture, history and leadership on campus.
Finally, in 1994, a growing number of students in the Hispanic-Latinx community petitioned for 1504 University Avenue to be a space they could call home. In May of that same year, the house was reestablished as the Institute of Hispanic and Latinx Cultures.
Affectionately called La Casita, the Institute would later be renovated, rebuilt, and reopened in November of 2019.
One of the most prominent organizations that La Casita has been home to is UF’s Hispanic Student Association (HSA), one of the largest organizations on UF’s campus.
For many students involved in this organization, their journey begins at La Casita.
Dario Mendoza Loor (he/him/his), the HSA Vice President of Operations, and Isabella Alonso (she/her/hers), the Executive Director of HSA’s Office of Political Affairs, provided some input on the value of finding a home away from home.
Both organization leaders emphasized the importance of La Casita in their transition to UF and finding a home on the campus.
Dario first heard of La Casita through a promotional video made for its grand opening after renovation by the Hispanic-Latinx Student Assembly (HLSA) and attended its opening event.
Isabella also heard the news of the grand reopening when she was a freshman at UF. Each saw the emergence of the new organization’s home at La Casita and witnessed the environment it would foster in years to come.
Both Dario and Isabella described La Casita as a place that welcomes students of Latinx descent as well as students from outside the community.
“When the library gets a little lonely, I can always count on Casita to be a welcoming place for anyone and everyone,” Alonso said. “I have invited friends to come, and they might say ‘Oh, but I’m not Latino,’ and I say that it doesn’t matter, because this place is for everyone.”
Whether it be the free cafecito, a traditional Latinx drink, Bad Bunny playing in the background, friendly faces, the educational archives that depict the history of the building and its original location, La Casita maintains its unique touch on the UF campus.
The sense of community is particularly unique at La Casita. “As soon as you sign in, you receive a greeting from the ambassador,” Dario said. “Everyone is so nice, and you can see your friends on the couches, and they can invite you over, and you can study with them, but even if it’s someone new to you that you have not met, they will still say ‘hi’ to you and get to know you.”
When asked how to describe La Casita to someone who has never been to it, Isabella said it best: “I would describe Casita as home.” A place to sink your roots in and grow stronger through time.
Both Dario and Alonso agreed that anyone who hasn't been to Casita should visit.
“Take some time out of your day to go and keep an eye out for the displays if there are any socials or events happening at La Casita. There’s always something going on,” said Dario.
“Come on by and go with someone that has already been there before so you can get a fun tour and learn more of what Casita is about. If you are looking for a space on campus just come by often!” said Isabella.
La Casita has demonstrated that people can could be hundreds, if not thousands of miles away from where they are from, but here in Gainesville they are not far from home.
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