Native American chief remembered thanks to Union alumni

After three years of research and archeological efforts, Union doctoral alumni Eric (Ph.D. 2014) and Karen Hannel (Ph.D. 2015), scholars of Native American history, discovered a Florida town named for Seminole Chief Chipco that had been long forgotten in history books.

Thanks to their research, the area is now designated with a marker as a Florida Heritage Site, forever recognizing the town of Chipco and its Seminole connection. Eric and Karen fought to establish the marker because it is important to remember the Seminole Native American culture, especially given the policies of the day, which included their removal and extermination.

“Decades of warfare and hostilities were designed to displace the Seminole from their farms and villages and reallocate that land to the settlers pouring into Florida,” explains Eric. “ By the 1850s, it was illegal for indigenous people to live in the state of Florida. Ten years later, the majority of Seminole had been murdered or forcibly removed to Oklahoma.

One of the two last remaining bands in Florida was led by Chipco. Because his group was no threat and hid in the swamps, it was not economical to pursue them. At this point in history, towns such as Chipco appear on the map. Named for a chief who had become, as a matter of survival, ‘a friend of the whites,’ the town of Chipco was built on land that had been cultivated for untold years by the Seminole. The avarice that allowed Florida to be colonized by dominant society ultimately turned upon itself to devour the town of Chipco. By stripping the land of its natural resources until it was a husk of its former self, leaving in its wake the haunting echo of flora and fauna driven into extinction, the town of Chipco folded and was condemned to the dustbin of history.

The only remnants of the town that survive are a handful of physical remains, such as a portion of the grist mill we located. We also found mentions of the existence of the town in snippets of letters and newspaper articles, which we tracked down. The descendants of Chief Chipco and his tiny band of Seminole, however, remain. Consolidated in South Florida, amidst the continued avarice of land developers and Big Sugar, the Seminole survive and offer by example a sustainable and respectful way of living in the natural world.”

Eric and Karen, who met at Union, are passionate about exposing injustice to Native Americans. They co-authored, “Amnesia, Anamnesis, and Myth-Making in Florida: A Case Study of Chipco,” published by the Florida Historical Quarterly Vol. 98, Fall 2019. Drs. Hannel created the teacher’s guide to the Mountain of SGaana. They also have separate forthcoming articles in Rebus, a peer reviewed journal, and they are finalizing a book on indigenous stereotypes, which has already been accepted for publication.

“For me personally, the passion stems from my Lakota ancestry,” said Eric, who earned his Ph.D. in 2014 from Union, majoring in both Humanities & Culture and Public Policy & Social Change and was the recipient of the Marvin B. Sussman Dissertation Award. Eric is a Florida Master Naturalist instructor and is working on a Professional Restoration Certification and a National Geographic Educator’s Certification. “In 1880, my Lakota ancestor was living in Indiana with his white wife, young daughter, and another daughter on the way. Shortly after the census taker came through his community, my third great-grandfather disappeared without a trace. There is much speculation as to what happened to him, but all that remains from that Lakota line are the traditions his wife could pass down. I have additional Native American lines in my family, but their histories have also been impacted in large part to federal policies of ‘killing the Indian, to save the man [or woman].’  What remains are some traditions and stories handed down from those tribal connections and possible links to the Trail of Tears, the Trail of Death, and the Long Walk. Additionally, federal policies made it illegal to speak a native language, participate in native customs, wear native regalia, practice native religion or even have a non-Christian name, leaving it tremendously challenging to track down important family documentation.”

Karen, who graduated from Union in 2015, with a major in Humanities & Culture and was also the recipient of the Marvin B. Sussman Dissertation Award, is also an expert on World War I. She focuses on art and conflict. She is a published poet and photographer and the author of Lost Voices of the First World War in Irish Art and Literature (McFarland, forthcoming).

She “traces the smudged outline of the hollow spaces left by people and things that once existed, but which are no more. She looks for reminders, place names like Withlocochee and Chocochatti, that offer troublesome reminders of the bloody ground privilege is built upon. Be it the endangered gopher tortoise who provides a home under the earth’s surface for 350 other species in their capacious burrows or caregivers who labor quietly to carry on their backs the weight of the vulnerable, she tries to be an advocate and strong right arm,” said Eric.

With a goal of social justice, the Hannels started a company, Chipco Preserve LLC, in January 2020 to focus on natural resource education, restoration, and conservation. Both Hannels credit their degrees from Union for identifying them as serious scholars and advocates for social justice. They believe that yesterday’s issues become tomorrow’s problems, and tomorrow always becomes today. “We believe social justice includes not only human, but our more-than-human relatives, such as plants and animals, and it includes clean air, clean water, and more. As an extension of the work we do on Chipco Preserve, our outreach efforts  currently support tribal members and orphaned elders who are facing terrible hardship due to COVID-19. We are pursuing a grant to assist our efforts, but to address the many life-threatening issues on reservations, we are also considering a crowd-sourcing effort.”

The Hannels invite all of us to join their work. “Our problems are not just indigenous, or black or white, or the myriad of ethnicities that make up our country. They are ours…collectively. It takes courage to address the historic inequalities that have existed throughout our history, but that is what courageous people do, they identify their shortcomings, and strive to resolve them.

Let us keep our sleeves rolled up and focus on the work ahead.”

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