Traditionally Associated Peoples and Ethnographic Resources

Identification and Documentation of Traditionally Associated Peoples: A Case Study from Biscayne National Park
Michael A. Downs, EDAW, Inc
February 27, 2003

EDAW is preparing the Biscayne National Park (BISC) Ethnographic Overview and Assessment, currently in draft final stage. EDAW is also involved in preparing the socioeconomic, environmental justice, and land use sections of the BISC General Management Plan Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), and will soon prepare analogous document sections under the BISC Fishery Management Plan revision process. The BISC experience provides a case study for issues related to the identification of traditionally associated peoples. The role of the research in a multi-level planning process provides an opportunity to illuminate the links between ethnographic research and broader resource management initiative research needs.

Methods employed in this work include literature review and limited ethnographic field investigations. A major challenge to the research is the scale and changing nature of the adjacent communities, as well as the nature of resource use that provides the specific links between associated peoples and the park.

Limited research resources have dictated a balance between characterization of the adjacent communities and the specific populations directly associated with the park. Park managers, faced with immediate planning and management needs, were most interested in characterization of existing uses, a number of which are not well documented or understood. Other, more programmatic research priorities dictated a broader view of characterizing the park as a part of the evolving socioeconomic and sociocultural context of south Florida, with a greater emphasis on producing an ethnographic treatment of a number of the populations of the Miami area. As a pragmatic compromise, the research took a "top down" (working from the communities toward the park) and "bottom up" (working from known uses of the park toward the communities) approach to describing the links between the park and associated populations. This was a somewhat frustrating compromise, given the interesting leads that were developed during the research that could not be fully pursued.

In many ways, BISC is an area of contrasts. From north to south, the geology of the park ranges from sand barrier islands to coral Keys, while from west to east, the ecological diversity of the park encompasses coastal mangroves, the protected waters of the bay, a chain of Keys and, finally, fringing coral reefs and deeper waters in the open Atlantic. The human uses of the park are as diverse as its resources, and patterns of use, and communities or groups associated with those uses, tend to co-vary with resource variation itself. To the north of the park is the urban Miami metropolitan area, and toward the southern end of the park a 'restored wilderness' can be found. While not a true wilderness, the park abounds with natural areas that show few obvious signs of human presence to the untrained eye. The park is at once the backyard playground to one of the great cities of the United States, and a set of natural and cultural resources of great aesthetic and conservation value. The park provides sustenance to shoreline fishers who use it to put food on their tables, and it provides at least a portion of a living to fishing guides, commercial fishers, and others who cater to the tourism trade. It is a recreational residence for individuals who may stay a day or two as campers or for a few who are occupants of Stiltsville.

Land uses adjacent to the park are changing. Urban and suburban uses are found north of the park, and have been extending southward along the western edge of BISC. Although Miami is a relatively new city, it has driven growth of Miami-Dade County to a population of 2.2 million in 2000 (and the greater Miami area, extending into Broward County to the north, was even larger). Figure 1 shows population densities in areas adjacent to the park. Agricultural use has been more common in lands to the west of the park. While Miami-Dade is still the second largest agricultural county in Florida (and 39th out of over 3,000 counties nationally in 2000), overall residential and associated commercial growth has displaced some agricultural uses. Figure 2 shows land uses adjacent to the park.

The communities adjacent to BISC are also changing. A relative newcomer among large American cities (in the late 1890s, the population was approximately 500), Miami has undergone significant demographic change in recent years and is a truly cosmopolitan center. In 2000, Miami-Dade was the number one county in the United States in terms of immigration, with over 45 percent of its residents having been born outside the country. It is the major port for Caribbean trade, and, in many ways, Miami is as much the northern fringe of Latin America as it is the southern fringe of urban America. Significant causes of this evolving reality include global as well as local factors. The growth and dominance of a Cuban-American population in the area can be directly traced to Cold War-related population flows (Miami-Dade had about 20,000 residents of Cuban origin prior to the 1959 revolution and about 833,000 in 2000), and Haitian and Nicaraguan immigration to the special relationship Miami has to the Caribbean and its economy (Miami, along with New York, is one of two major immigration centers in the U.S. for each group; Nicaraguans make up the second largest group of Hispanic origin in the area). BISC itself has proven a crossroads in this change. For example, Haitian immigrants on crude vessels desperate to enter the United States have come into BISC where the Gulf Stream passes closest to American shores. The same area that was earlier the playground of the richest of the rich in America, when wealthy families from the Northeast would vacation on the Keys, is now at times a passionate destination goal of the poorest of the poor seeking a new start and a new life in this country. In terms of identifying traditionally associated peoples, newly arrived peoples have not had enough time to establish traditional ties; those with more distant ties to the Keys in what is now BISC do not seem to have retained contemporary links, with few exceptions.

Unlike a number of other National Park System units in the region, American Indian groups with links to the park would not appear to fit the classification of traditionally associated peoples. Tequesta sites are found in BISC, but these people vanished long ago. Seminole and Miccosukee groups, both descendent from Creek peoples from the region that is now Alabama and Georgia, did have historical use of the area and, while consultations are continuing, there are no obvious contemporary connections to the park.

While this report, by design an ethnographic overview and assessment, focuses on existing literature, it is clear that there are park use patterns and associated community connections that are not adequately represented in the existing literature. For example, it is known that the local Mexican-American community has grown in recent years, and based on anecdotal evidence it would appear that there is at least some use of the park by this community for shoreline fishing. In contrast, Cuban-Americans often use the Keys within the park as a recreational destination site. These two communities or populations, while sharing an Hispanic heritage, appear to use two different areas of the park (onshore and offshore, respectively), accessed by two different means (vehicle and vessel), for two different (among other) primary uses (consumptive use of resources versus non-consumptive use). As suggestive as these initial findings may be, however, the Mexican-American use of the park is all but invisible in existing documents. In fact, research for this project shows that at least a good portion of shore based users of the park (e.g., 86 percent of the fishers contacted at Mowry Canal) do not know they are in a national park. This, obviously, presents management challenges to BISC staff. In general, the fact that BISC is a park "without a front gate" presents its own set of management challenges, and structures the relationship of the park to the communities in the area.

It is also important to note that while the particular mix of management and community related issues is unique to BISC, the individual management challenges related to associated populations faced by BISC managers are relatively common throughout the national park system. In some ways, BISC represents a microcosm of contemporary management complexities. One example of this is Stiltsville. In-holdings are not uncommon in national parks, and where these in-holdings overlap with a locally valued way of life, or are iconic of those lifeways, managers are presented with special challenges. In the case of Stiltsville, the structures do not qualify as historic, nor, apparently, do their uses qualify as types of 'traditional use' under National Park Service guidelines. Further, given the non-kin based ownership structure of most of the dwellings, present occupants would not appear to meet the definition of traditionally associated people with, perhaps, one or a very few exceptions. However, the structures are clearly symbolic of a portion of the south Florida experience, and their existence harkens back to an earlier (if somewhat romanticized) era. While the structures themselves are not used as a public resource, the park will be different, and some say diminished, when these structures are gone. Park management and others with vested interests still struggle with issues of public and private access to commonly held resources, as managers do at other parks. The proximity to Miami and extensive press coverage makes this a relatively high profile issue.

BISC also represents different things to different communities, and even different experiences of single communities. For example, to African-Americans of the area, BISC embodies a history of segregation, in the form of an historic Blacks-only beach on the contemporary site of the visitor's center, and of economic and social triumph in a repressive society, in the form of the Parson Jones homesite offshore on the Keys. That these two contemporaneous sites exist within the park is a valuable story that remains to be further developed. That the sociocultural differences parallel mainland and offshore resource contrasts is also an important part of the story, and a theme that carries through to stories of other groups and their varied relations to the park. In terms of identifying traditionally associated peoples, however, there is scant literature on African-American ties to what is now the park, and much could be developed through further ethnographic research.

It is also clear that the demographic characteristics of the visitors to BISC do not reflect those of the communities of the area. While not unexpected, given the fact that national parks in general derive visitors from far and wide, the contrasts are still striking. Statistics compiled on participants in BISC school outreach programs appear to mirror the demographics of the communities at large, and these are very different from those characterizing persons seen at the visitor center or elsewhere in the park, whether measured by visitor surveys or casual observation. The dynamics of this situation are surely complex, and made all the more complicated by the differential types of access required to visit different parts of the park.

BISC is also a maritime crossroads as well as a destination. The Intercoastal Waterway runs through Biscayne Bay within the park, and Hawk Channel is a shipping lane that traverses BISC on the outside of the Keys. While wreckers and salvors no longer ply its waters, individuals still can and do make a living off of those in distress on the sea, but in modern times this normally translates to tow companies assisting pleasure boaters. Another contemporary incarnation of historic salvors may be seen in those who would privatize the excavation (or even widespread exploration) of historically significant shipwrecks within the park. A hard-fought battle in a number of parks (and elsewhere), the tension between those who believe that to leave a wreck untouched is to abandon it to destruction by the ocean and those who believe that to salvage it is to destroy its integrity and therefore its continuing value is present in BISC as well. That such activity would be pursued otherwise may be seen in the fact that preservation of these wrecks requires continuing vigilance on the part of park personnel, but none of the information reviewed for this study would suggest that there is a continuity between historical and contemporary wrecking and salvage, legal or illegal, that would serve to define traditionally associated peoples. The common presence of U.S. Customs, U.S. Coast Guard, Immigration and Naturalization Service, and other federal law enforcement officers in the area also attest to the fact that BISC also remains a crossroads for the smuggling trade. As the backdoor to Miami and gateway to the United States from the Bahamas, the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean, and beyond, a variety of illegal trafficking occurs in the area but, for obvious reasons, the linking of these activities to traditionally associated peoples is problematic.

BISC represents many things to the different communities and populations in the area. It is a little known park compared to the nearby Everglades National Park. When viewed from the observation deck at the Dante Fascell Visitor Center at Convoy Point, the low-lying Keys within the park are not as obvious or eye-catching as the downtown Miami skyline that appears to float in the distance to the north. When on the water in the park and looking back toward the mainland, the miles of coastal mangrove, vital to the health and well being of the Biscayne Bay ecosystem, are not as obvious as the view-dominating Turkey Point (nuclear) Power Plant on the southern edge of the park and the highest elevation feature in the County located immediately behind (west) of the park at Black Point Marina – the enormous landfill colloquially known as "Mount Trashmore." Despite these reminders that areas adjacent to the park are not pristine, BISC represents an area and a set of resources that is vitally important to local communities in a variety of ways, perhaps made all the more so by the adjacent uses. While a number of relationships between communities and the park have become clear through this study, it has raised a number of issues that could benefit from further clarification in subsequent studies. These include:

This research is taking place at a time when BISC is facing a number of challenging and controversial planning and management issues. Two prominent issues include ongoing private occupation of structures within the park and continuing commercial fishing activities. Both involve activities and relationships at the problematic edges of definitions of traditional uses and traditional association. While the specific constellation of planning and management challenges seen in BISC are unique, the individual elements are common to many National Park system units elsewhere. The BISC experience, the challenges it presents to the analysis of traditionally associated peoples, and the way this analysis can and does overlap with other management data needs, put BISC at the forefront of parks where ethnographic research can make an immediate contribution to contemporary planning and management processes.