The Fight for Florida’s Real History

By Joe Courter

“Viva Florida 500 is a statewide initiative led by the Florida Department of State, under the leadership of Governor Rick Scott, to highlight the 500 years of historic people, places and events in present-day Florida since the arrival of Juan Ponce de León to the land he named La Florida in 1513. While Florida’s Native American heritage dates back more than 12,000 years, Spain’s claim in 1513 began a new era.

“2013 marks 500 years of history and diverse cultural heritage in Florida—a claim no other state in America can make—and Viva Florida 500 promotes the place where the world’s cultures began to unite and transform into the great nation we know today as the United States of America.”

So says the State of Florida’s Website. Nice turn of phrase there—“promotes the place where the world’s cultures began to unite and transform.”

What happened in April of 1513 was a conquistador from Spain arrived on land where native people had been living and developing their own mix of cultures for 12,000 years and said, in effect, “we now own your land, we demand you do what we say, adopt our beliefs, or we will kill you.”

Is that too harsh a paraphrase?

Well, the mindset of De León and his other “explorers” was put in writing by the powers that be in Spain. They had empowered Columbus to travel to find riches and bounty across the ocean, and they were aware of the people he found there and how their passivity made them good slaves. So they discussed this and came up with a few “policies.”

As Rick Piper writes: “The codification of these brutal tactics, that were already being used in the Americas, was discussed and argued for years in Spain as to the morality of their actions. ‘The Requerimiento’ or ‘requirement’ (as in ‘demand’) is the famous political and religious cover document written by Council of Castile in 1510, commanded to be read aloud by the Conquistadors when they encountered native people in the Americas. It was used to justify the assertion that they were here representing God and that the native people were to submit to immediate occupation and conversion to Christianity. In the last infamous paragraph of ‘the Requerimiento,’ the Conquistadors’ mission and tactics are made clear.

“‘But, if you do not do this, and maliciously make delay in it, I certify to you that, with the help of God, we shall powerfully enter into your country, and shall make war against you in all ways and manners that we can, and shall subject you to the yoke and obedience of the Church and of their Highnesses; we shall take you and your wives and your children, and shall make slaves of them, and as such shall sell and dispose of them as their Highnesses may command; and we shall take away your goods, and shall do you all the mischief and damage that we can’… and “the deaths and losses which shall accrue from this are YOUR FAULT.’”

The above was from a document put together by Rick Piper, an artist living on the Florida coast, leading the charge in resistance to the Viva Florida 500 effort that manifested in the Melbourne area when an initiative was launched to name the barrier island which runs from Port Canaveral to Sebastian Inlet “Ponce De León Island.” A public information campaign was organized to expose and shed light on the history of the area and horrors visited upon the native population.

Over the course of 2012, more and more of the seven community councils along the barrier island (un-named but on early charts actually named for the Ayes people who lived there) voted against the naming of the island for the Conquistador until they all unanimously rejected the initiative. As a result, the U.S. Board of Geographic Names voted not to adopt the Ponce De León name in December 2012.

Piper provided me with an extensive amount of research, too much to recount here in the Iguana. What follows is from Rick Piper in his letter highlighting the extensive research he put together. A lot of this research cited probably got rolling thanks to the Columbus Quincentenary in 1992 and the righteous backlash launched by academics and people of conscience. Rick Piper is a hero for what he did he response to the Viva Florida 500 hype organized by a self-interested few who cared not a whit for the genocide here in this “Land of Flowers.”

From Piper:

“Below is a link to the compiled research paper I wrote to inform our fight to stop the naming of our Island for Ponce and the cited references at the bottom of the paper will lead you to the actual archival information that people responded to best, including

– ‘The Requerimiento,’ the decree the Conquistadors were required to read aloud to the Native Americans they encountered demanding immediate conversion and submission or slavery and death (amazing)

– The actual contract for Ponce to come to Florida detailing the division of any gold he could plunder and ‘allocating’ any Indians he finds to him for his use. (He was a Slaver.)

– The Yale Genocide Studies Program’s reference to Ponce and his protégés, and the places he helped decimate, like Hispaniola and Puerto Rico.

“I found presenting these archival facts with a minimum of hyperbole won people over to the rightness of pushing back against the Viva Florida 500 whitewash of Ponce’s history.

Reading through my paper will give you a quick guide as to how the cited archival note can be powerfully used to take apart the myth.

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