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Urban sprawl impacts Florida reservations

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BIG CYPRESS RESERVATION, Fla. -- The Seminole and Miccosukee tribes are
dealing with urban sprawl in south Florida. Like their non-Indian
neighbors, they are impacted by the population and development explosion.

Tina Osceola, executive director of the Seminole Tribe of Florida's Museum
Department, said American Indians in the Sunshine State have a unique
problem. "Land that was once considered not suitable for development is now
being encroached upon by developers because available land has disappeared
closer to urban centers."

Osceola said developers are now eyeing property closer to reservation land.
She said that is especially true near the Big Cypress Reservation in
southeast Hendry County, where land in both Hendry and Collier counties
near the Big Cypress is more attractive to developers today than it was a
few years ago.

"That development will bring neighbors closer to the Big Cypress who are
not familiar with the Big Cypress community. Up to now, neighbors of the
reservation have been farmers or ranchers or personnel from state or
federal agencies."

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Osceola said the general public does not know what an Indian tribe is, how
it functions and what tribal sovereignty means. "People have developed
negative [opinions] because of casinos and gaming without learning about
the tribes themselves." She said in Florida, the metropolitan regional
planning organizations are now beginning to approach the tribes about
proposed development.

"The planners are now approaching the tribes because they realize
development is a two-way street. We are all in this together. In the past,
local governments were reluctant to contact Native American tribes because
they didn't know how tribal governments work."

Osceola thinks that is changing. "Non-Indian people may have viewed the
tribes as entertainment or a quaint look into the past. But the Indian
people face the same problems if the environment is threatened or
development is not controlled."