- Buffalo Tiger: A Life in the Everglades
Autobiographies and life stories are familiar and enigmatic landmarks on the terrain of American Indian studies. Texts by Charles Eastman, John Stands In Timber, Black Elk, Wilma Mankiller, and others have attracted a broad audience. Many of these collaborative projects found their way into mainstream bookstores and undergraduate reading lists where newcomers to Native Studies learn about the struggles of indigenous people. Yet, for all the knowledge they convey, the genre is fraught with contradictions, ambiguity, and—to some extent—intellectual colonialism. Buffalo Tiger: A Life in the Everglades, exhibits many of these problems and possibilities, and in doing so, provides an opportunity to address conversations about decolonization occupying scholars today. All those concerned with the past, present, and future of Indian politics should find this contribution informative.
Superficially, the autobiography narrates a Native leader's experiences throughout the twentieth century. Buffalo Tiger begins by discussing Miccosukee culture and history in chapters that read like part memoir and part ethnography. In "A Miccosukee Childhood," he discusses clan identities, the gendered division of labor, hunting and [End Page 89] gathering practices, and the Green Corn Dance at the center of Miccosukee culture. Buffalo Tiger also summarizes Miccosukee origins and their relationship with the fluid landscape of the Everglades. He explains the tribe's conflicted history with the Seminoles, their relatives to the north, who refused to recognize Miccosukee independence throughout most of the twentieth century. Ensuing chapters catalogue Buffalo Tiger's confrontation with and negotiation of "The White Man's Ways" symbolized by the cash economy, tourism, non-Indian education, health care, and state politics. Many of the scenarios echo stories related by elders born in the 1920s, although Buffalo Tiger did not recall painful experiences in boarding schools or with religious discrimination.
Later portions of the book contribute to American Indian history and "Indian-White relations" because we learn how Buffalo Tiger stood at the forefront of national Indian politics. Working as a "culture broker" between conservative Miccosukee elders advocating separatism from Anglo society and a hostile Congress, Buffalo Tiger helped thwart plans to terminate his people's relationship with the land. The Miccosukee even rejected millions of dollars from the Indian Claims Commission and they refused to relocate to a different reservation because, according to Buffalo Tiger, "We just wanted to live our life. We wanted to live on the land the way we had always lived on it—to hunt and find food the way we had always done it" (85). The Miccosukee eventually adopted a modified version of the Indian Reorganization Act and by the 1960s ran several businesses oriented towards tourism. The tribe opened its own school, contracted with the Indian Health Service for medical care, and in 1982 negotiated a deal to protect their land and resources. When Buffalo Tiger retired from politics, his allies recognized his efforts to promote Native sovereignty and self-determination long before Congress passed legislation to that effect in 1975.
We should welcome this addition to the Indians of the Southeast Series of the University of Nebraska Press, edited by Theda Perdue and Michael Green, even if Buffalo Tiger's life story leaves important methodological questions unanswered. Harry Kersey Jr., a professor of history at Florida Atlantic University, maintains a low profile [End Page 90] throughout the initial sections of the book and limits his commentary to a brief introduction and short summaries of Indian policy and history. Kersey moves into the center of the narrative with an appended and highly limited discussion of "as told to" stories published primarily before the 1980s. Moreover, he seems to base this section and his theoretical perspective with analytical work from the 1950s. He briefly notes contributions by Arnold Krupat, Sally McBeth, and Julie Cruikshank, but avoids implementing any of their conclusions. This limited discourse causes one to wonder about the details of their relationship, Kersey's position as a scholar, and the dynamics of race. Issues of power and gender never arise either. Additionally, this section...