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Seminole Indian Fact Sheet

Native American Facts For Kids was written for young people learning about the Seminoles for school or home-schooling reports. We encourage students and teachers to visit our main Seminole website for in-depth information about the tribe, but here are our answers to the questions we are most often asked by children, with Seminole pictures and links we believe are suitable for all ages.




  Seminole Tribe

How do you pronounce the word "Seminole"? What does it mean?
Seminole is pronounced "SEH-minn-ole." It comes from a Spanish word meaning "wild."

How did the Seminole tribe form?
In the 1700's, many Indians from Georgia and Florida tribes--Creeks, Miccosukees, Hitchitis, and Oconees--joined together for protection. These tribes originally had unique cultural identities, but they soon merged into a unified Seminole nation. Over the next century, Native Americans from other tribes and African-Americans who escaped from slavery crossed the border into Florida to join the Seminoles too.

Where do the Seminoles live?
The Seminoles lived in Florida. They started out in northern Florida, but when the Americans attacked them, the Seminole tribe retreated further south, into the Everglades. Some Seminole people were forced to move to Oklahoma in the 1800's along with other eastern tribes. Other Seminole people still live in southern Florida today.

How is the Seminole Indian nation organized?
There are two Seminole tribes today. The Florida Seminoles live on a reservation, which is land that belongs to the tribe and is under their control. The Oklahoma Seminoles live on trust land. Each Seminole tribe has its own government, laws, police, and services, just like a small country. However, the Seminoles are also US citizens and must obey American law.

What language do the Seminoles speak?
Most Seminole Indians speak English today. Some Seminoles also speak one of the two native Seminole languages: Miccosukee and Creek. These two languages are related but different, like English and German are. If you'd like to know a few easy Seminole words, istonko (pronounced iss-tone-koh) means "hello" in Seminole Creek, and chehuntamo (pronounced chee-hun-tah-moh) means "hello" in Miccosukee. You can also read a Creek picture glossary here.

What was Seminole culture like in the past? What is it like now?
Here is a link to the Seminole Tribe of Florida, where you can learn about the Seminole people past and present.

How do Seminole Indian children live, and what did they do in the past?
They do the same things all children do--play with each other, go to school and help around the house. Many Seminole children like to go hunting and fishing with their fathers. In the past, Seminole kids had more chores and less time to play, just like early colonial children. But they did have palmetto dolls and wooden toys, and teenage Seminole boys liked to play ball games like stickball, similar to the Iroquois game of lacrosse. Like many Native Americans, Seminole mothers traditionally carried their babies in cradle boards on their backs--a custom which many American parents have adopted now.

What were men and women's roles in the Seminole tribe?
Seminole men were hunters and sometimes went to war to protect their families. Seminole women were farmers and also did most of the child care and cooking. Both genders took part in storytelling, artwork and music, and traditional medicine. In the past, the chief was always a man, but today a Seminole woman can participate in government too.

What were Seminole homes like in the past?
The Seminole people lived in houses called chickees. Seminole chickees were made of wood and plaster, and the roofs were thatched with palmetto fiber. Here are some pictures of chickees like the ones Seminole Indians used. Originally, the Seminoles lived in large villages of chickees arranged around a town square with central buildings in it, like a meeting hall and a sports field. But as the Seminoles moved south, they began living in smaller groups in remote areas of the Everglades. They also began building their houses on wooden stilts that raised the floor two or three feet off the ground. This protected their homes from flooding and swamp animals. Today, most Seminoles live in modern houses and apartment buildings, just like you.

What was Seminole clothing like? Did they wear feather headdresses and face paint?
Seminole men wore breechcloths. Seminole women wore wraparound skirts, usually woven from palmetto. Shirts were not necessary in Seminole culture, but men and women both wore poncho-style mantles in cool weather. The Seminoles also wore moccasins on their feet. In colonial times, the Seminoles adapted European costume into their own characteristic styles, including turbans and long colorful tunics for men and full patchwork skirts for women. Here is a webpage with pictures of traditional Seminole dress, and here are some photographs and links about Indian clothes in general.

The Seminoles didn't wear war bonnet headdresses like the Sioux. Seminole men usually shaved their heads except for a single scalplock, and sometimes they would also wear a porcupine roach. Originally, Seminole women wore their long hair in topknots or buns, but later they developed a distinctive hairstyle in which they fanned their hair out around a cardboard frame. The Seminoles wore elaborate tribal tattoos, but rarely painted their faces.

Today, some Seminole people still wear moccasins or a patchwork skirt, but they wear modern clothes like jeans instead of breechcloths... and they only wear roaches in their hair on special occasions like a dance.

What was Seminole transportation like in the days before cars? Did they paddle canoes?
Yes--the Seminole Indians made flat dugout canoes from hollowed-out cypress logs. They steered these boats with poles rather than paddles, and sometimes used sails made from palmetto fiber. Here is a website with pictures of different Native American boat styles. Over land, the Seminoles used dogs as pack animals. (There were no horses in North America until colonists brought them over from Europe.) Today, of course, Seminole people also use cars... and non-native people also use canoes.

What was Seminole food like in the days before supermarkets?
The Seminoles were farming people. Seminole women harvested crops of corn, beans, and squash. Seminole men did most of the hunting and fishing, catching game such as deer, wild turkeys, rabbits, turtles, and alligators. Seminole Indian dishes included cornbread, soups, and stews. Here is a website with more information about Indian farmers.

What were Seminole weapons and tools like in the past?
Seminole hunters used bows and arrows. Fishermen usually used fishing spears. Traditionally, Seminole warriors fired their bows or fought with tomahawks. But by the time the Seminole tribe had united in the 1700's, they also fought with guns. Here is a website about Native American weapons and tools.

What are Seminole arts and crafts like?
The Seminoles are known for their Native American baskets, woodcarvings, beadwork, and patchwork designs.

I read that the Seminoles were part of the Five Civilized Tribes. Was that an alliance like the Iroquois Confederacy?
No. Many people guess this, but it isn't true. "The Five Civilized Tribes" was just a name that the white settlers used to refer to the Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee, and Seminole tribes of the Southeast. These five tribes were never part of an alliance together, and they did not call themselves the Civilized Tribes in their own languages. Originally, the white settlers probably called them this because these five tribes were early converts to Christianity. They were also farmers who lived in settled towns under sophisticated government systems, which Europeans and early Americans considered a higher level of civilization than independent bands of hunters who moved from place to place. However, there were dozens of other Native American tribes who also led farming lifestyles, not just these five.

What kinds of stories do the Seminoles tell?
There are lots of traditional Seminole legends and fairy tales. Storytelling is very important to the Seminole Indian culture. Here is a story about the origin of the Seminole clans. Here's a website where you can read more about Seminole legends.

What about Seminole religion?
Religions are too complicated and culturally sensitive to describe appropriately in only a few simple sentences, and we strongly want to avoid misleading anybody. You can visit this site to learn more about Seminole rituals or this site about Native American religion in general.

Can you recommend a good book for me to read?
There are several good stories for kids about the Seminole tribe. One is Indian Shoes, a charming collection of short stories about a contemporary Cherokee-Seminole boy and his grandfather. Another is Night Bird, which is historical fiction about the relocation of many Seminoles to Oklahoma. A third is Seminole Diary, which is the compelling story of two escaped slaves who join the Seminole tribe. You might also like The Wonderful Sky Boat, which is a collection of traditional tales from several Southeasten tribes including the Seminoles. Or Patchwork: Seminole and Miccosukee Art and Activities is a good book with craft activities as well as cultural information. You can also browse through our reading list of recommended American Indian books in general.

How do I cite your website in my bibliography?
You will need to ask your teacher for the format he or she wants you to use. The authors' names are Laura Redish and Orrin Lewis and the title of our site is Native Languages of the Americas. We are a nonprofit educational organization working to preserve and protect Native American languages and culture. You can learn more about our organization here. Our website was first created in 1998 and last updated in 2013.

Thanks for your interest in the Seminole Indian people and their languages!

Learn More About The Seminoles

Seminole Indian Tribe
An overview of the Seminole Indians, their language and history.

Seminole Language Resources
Seminole Indian language samples, articles, and indexed links.

Seminole Culture and History Directory
Related links about the Seminole tribe past and present.

Seminole Words
Seminole Indian vocabulary lists.



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