Houston R. Cypress of the Otter Clan, one of the families of the Miccosukee Tribe and co-founder of Love The Everglades Movement, is rising to the occasion and sharing his narrative of the Everglades.
“[Our mission statement] is to implement evolving strategies across the full spectrum of being which address the environmental, structural, cultural and spiritual problems plaguing the Florida Everglades by raising awareness and organizing positive community engagement,” he said.
The idea of the Love The Everglades Movement’s beginnings is traced back to an Introduction to Communications course at the Art Institute in downtown Miami. Co-founder Jean Sarmiento was giving a presentation on the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, and then Cypress invited Sarmiento to a semiannual environmental study that was coordinated by the Miccosukee community.
From there on, they blossomed a harmonious friendship where they would continuously collaborate with each other. They bonded immediately over their love and respect for the River of Grass.
Cypress’s multifaceted approach is an innovative take on environmentalism.
Storytelling is something that has always been paramount in passing down Native American history and teachings.
“As a Two-Spirit person, and a gay man, I really want to make my friends and family in the LGBTQ+ communities feel welcome [in the Everglades], I started a series of Big Cypress hiking trips specifically for the Trans and BIPOC folks.” Cypress added, “Everything from airboat rides to meteor shower watch parties, poetry and painting workshops. Those are always so magical!”
“My roots are in the Everglades,” Cypress said.
Tamiami Trail is now eerily quiet; the constant hustle and bustle, the commotion of lost tourists frantically checking their GPS trying to find airboat companies are now absent.
With COVID-19 and water quality issues being a reoccurring headline in South Florida these companies are deserted and the windows are boarded up. Now shells of these buildings dot the landscape as the airboats are quietly queued as they wait for tourism to filter back in.
Water quality has been a hot topic in South Florida for the last few years; stories ranging from the sugarcane plantation chemical run-off, red tide and algae blooms in Biscayne Bay, and hypersalinity.
For the last half-decade, scientists are paying closer attention to the water quality in Lake Okeechobee, the western coast of Florida and Biscayne Bay. Red tide has killed fish populations en masse and caused respiratory distress in humans. The Miami Brain Endowment Bank has found that lab animals that have chronically consumed cyanobacterial neurotoxins brought about neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s or ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
“We’re all connected to the Everglades and to the water cycle,” he said. “The waters of the Everglades flow through our communities, your homes and even our bodies.”
The prejudices from the Old World arrive on the shores of the New World
The long, tumultuous history of the founding of the U.S. is often skimmed over in our history books.
From the Spanish conquistadors’ raping and pillaging of the Caribbean and their endless pursuit for gold, or the British committing mass murder.
The Native Americans who survived the onslaught were forced to assimilate to Western culture.
During the late 1800s, at this point, most Native Americans were already interned to reservations by the federal government and were well on their way to a cultural assimilation campaign which forced thousands of Native American children to attend a re-education program that stripped them of their identity, customs, traditions and beliefs.
Their hair was cut short and cropped in a Western-style, speaking their native tongue was absolutely forbidden, practicing their beliefs was banned. Many children were leased out to families and worked as indentured servants.
“The European people committed genocide on our ancestors through murder, biological warfare, kidnapping children, relocating communities to sever relationships to their land, brainwashing, political acts of erasure. Our gender diverse ancestors had to either go underground or give up, or forget those ways of being as a coping strategy to simply survive,” he said.
The term Two-Spirit is a relatively new one; it was created in 1990 at an Indigenous lesbian and gay international gathering in Winnipeg, Canada. It was chosen specifically to distinguish and to distance First Nation people from non-Native people.
A derogatory term, “berdache” was used to trivialize and minimize the importance of Native American culture.
Some tribes see gender as a continuum rather than a rigid societal norm; it’s more of a varying degree of male or female. Gender and sexuality are seen as two separate concepts, which must have bewildered the Europeans when they first arrived.
Storytelling has been an important aspect of engaging the community in conversations.
“Innovate how you share stories with social media, create artwork in collaboration with scientists. Scientists, artists and social justice advocates definitely have vital information that impacts one another,” Cypress said.
Cypress encourages people to go outside of their network circles and be inventive with activism but also to remain humble.
He said we are all interconnected, understanding our continuous and ever-evolving narrative is so crucial to our happiness and our culture.
“We learn from each other all the time. I always remind myself that I gotta remain teachable too. That child, that plant, that beautiful queer, trans artist will teach me.”
This is a part of an SFGN series on local BIPOC leaders making a difference in the community.