What a tangle of relationships bind up the Miccosuckee Tribe, the federal government, the state and Miami-Dade County.
Environmentalists long held hope that the Tribe, for whom the remnant Everglades are home, would prove reliable allies in the battle to restore the faded River of Grass.
For many years the Tribe and Friends of the Everglades (I serve as volunteer president for the small organization founded by Marjory Stoneman Douglas that has been a co-plaintiff with the Tribe on landmark federal cases) cooperated as co-plaintiffs in federal litigation involving the state of Florida. One case related to transfers of dirty water between canals operated by the state, filed by Friends and the Tribe, went to the US Supreme Court (how and why it resolved favorably to Big Sugar was scarcely reported by the Herald).
The Tribe was most involved in Everglades restoration when it was guided by former US attorney Dexter Lehtinen. Even then, the Tribe's priorities were enigmatic. Its century-long antagonism toward the federal government -- from the sordid Indian Wars and US policies of genocide-- has never softened. Nor did the Tribe embrace the goals of environmental nonprofits as they emerged in the 1970's, despite the fact the Tribe is also skeptical of federal and state management of water quality and water supply in the Everglades.
As gambling revenues soared, the Tribe began to invest in properties outside its federally defined, tribal boundaries.
For more than 20 years, I have been involved in land use battles at the edges of the Everglades, against private developers of suburban sprawl, their bankers, lobbyists and land use attorneys, and the warren of jurisdictions, including the county, the state, and federal agencies.
At one point, I hoped the Tribe could be an ally on Urban Development Boundary issues. The reason is clear enough, why that hope never materialized: the Tribe is a property owner at the edge of Miami-Dade. On the one hand, one could defend the Tribe; it is only protecting its interests like any investor. Moreover, one could say the Tribe is also guarding its interests by ownership of large land parcels whose future use could be a determinant factor in Everglades water flow and quality improvements. On the other hand, the Tribe could be mercenary as any other land speculator, irrespective of the ultimate costs to the environment.
For its part, the County has never been a reliable partner of protecting its edge of the Everglades. Although its environmental ethic with respect to zoning and other land use priorities began in the 1970's with the best of intentions, over the decades its role dwindled to the point of disappearing altogether. (Only a few years ago, County Commissioner Pepe Diaz and the head of the Miami-Dade Parks Department quietly advanced a plan to allow all-terrain vehicles to roam in the exact part of Big Cypress National Preserve where a battle raged against an Everglades jetport in the 1960's.)
Under the weight of this history, it is a sad spectacle to read in the Miami Herald, "Miami-Dade fights for Miccosukee golf course in West Kendall". The county fears the Tribe will exert control (for example, a possible future casino, water control features, etc. etc.), that it will lose tax base, etc. etc. Some good the County has done these long years, representing the scoundrels and sprawl boosters who turned the edge of Miami-Dade County into a forlorn strip, only good for using as barter in future county political campaigns.
In the Herald article, local residents seem oblivious to the political plate tectonics underneath the scraggly area that all used to be Everglades not so long ago but is now cul de sacs and anonymous tract housing.
For its part, the Feds may have traded off the right to assignment of the golf course acres in the tribal trust -- and so insulated against local jurisdiction -- for other things the Feds wanted: like the elevation of Tamiami Trail that the Tribe opposes.
I am always struck, flying over the Everglades into Miami International Airport, how calm and serene the Everglades looks from above. Who among the other passengers would know they are looking down at a thousand squabbles?