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In this newest installment of BahaiTeachings.org’s ongoing series about Indigenous Messengers of God, we learn about Breathmaker, the Seminole holy figure, and his teachings.
Q: Kevin, because I do research, it may appear that I know far more than I actually do. For instance, I wrote—and quoted—quite a lot about Lone Man, the indigenous messenger of Mandan sacred tradition in our previous article. But, truth be told, I knew nothing about Lone Man until you introduced me to him.
Now you’ve just told me about Breathmaker, the holy figure in the Seminole sacred tradition. There must have been a first time you heard about this fascinating Indigenous Messenger, too. So when and how did you first learn about Breathmaker—the Indigenous Messenger of God for the Seminoles?
A: In the late 1970s, I was invited to perform at one of the first annual Miccosukee Indian Arts Festivals at the Miccosukee Reservation, 40 miles west of Miami in the heart of the Everglades. It was quite a shock to go from -30° F in North Dakota to +85° F in Florida! I was initially overwhelmed to be suddenly in a land of dazzling greenery, flowers, caroling birds of every variety, and alligators. The performers all stayed at the Miccosukee community.
The most amazing thing to me was the fact that very few of the Miccosukee, especially the children, spoke English. I found a young man who could speak English and asked him why. He replied: “They don’t speak English because they don’t go to school and never hear it spoken.” He elaborated:
If you look around the village, you see many old people who grew up eating the pure food we grow and obtain from the land here. That’s why we have many who are over 100 years old here. When they were young, there were no white people in this part of Florida. In their lifetime, they have witnessed the destruction of the Everglades and also the rapid growth of the cities, spreading like a cancer. They tell us that just as fast as it appeared, Breathmaker will roll it up and make it disappear. They tell us younger generations that they don’t want us to stand with those people (white immigrants) or else we will be swept away with them.
I personally don’t agree. I think we should go to school and learn how to interact with white people. But since they are our grandparents, we respect them and obey their advice. When they are gone all this will change. The elders stay true to the teachings of Breathmaker who foretold that only those who hold to his teachings will be safe when the world is made new. They really believe in this! That’s why we have survived, even though the U.S. government fought the three Seminole Wars to destroy us. Yet we have survived.
After hearing this, I wanted to go home immediately and never return. I didn’t want to get swept away like all the other outsiders. Later, after becoming a Baha’i, I realized that their underlying principle of firmness in the Covenant meant that the Miccosukee elders were simply complying with the divine commandment of Breathmaker.
Q: Kevin, what you say about Breathmaker, who foretold that only those who hold to his teachings will be safe when the world is made new, was confirmed by Buffalo Tiger, a Miccosukee who passed away in 2015:
Buffalo Tiger may yearn for the old ways, but he, too, lives in town, across the street from a Target store.
Sitting motionless on a bench with wooden slats, along a canal skirting the Everglades, Buffalo Tiger doesn’t seem to struggle with such dilemmas, perhaps because the Miccosukees believe the end of the Earth is near and so it doesn’t much matter anyway.
“This will all be like a desert someday,” he says. “It isn’t long until the Breathmaker returns. He’s going to destroy the Earth. Hurricanes will get worse. It will even snow here. There will be earthquakes here.”
The signs, handed down by tribal elders for hundreds of years, are now appearing, he says. … Drug use is rampant. Fish and turtles are dying. And, probably most important, the Everglades wetland is being decimated, an indication that the earth will be barren and people will starve.
I remember when I was a boy that there were so many fish that you could just rock the canoe, and the fish would pour into the canoe with the water that spilled over the sides,” he says. “Maybe half the Miccosukees feel strongly about the old ways. – Tom Wells, “Lights of Miami Lure the Young Away From a Vanishing Tribe; Culture: Miccosukee Indians fended off U.S. federal government troops in the 19th century. But modern development in the Everglades is taking a toll on their spirit,” Los Angeles Times, 23 Feb. 1997, p. 4.
Buffalo Tiger talked about Breathmaker in his biography:
Traditional Miccosukee people, Eelaponke, always have great respect for this land, this year, and life itself. They believed Feshahkee-ommehche—the Breathmaker—created the land and all living things. … Breathmaker taught us how to live on and protect the land and how to love nature. He taught us how to understand other people but to maintain our customs and culture. … Since Breathmaker put this land for us to live on and care for, money cannot buy the land. … Breathmaker created us out of the clay; it happens to be brown muck, so we turned out to be brown persons. … We were Breathmaker’s people … People used to be more in control because they knew Breathmaker’s law. It’s the only law we know. It is simple. We didn’t make that law. Breathmaker thought that was the type of law we must use, and we lived with it. …
Breathmaker talked to us after we were created. He told us, “I will return one day. Carry on what I have taught you to live by or otherwise I will destroy you.” We were told before Breathmaker returns we will see signs like people changing to be disrespectful and people doing many wrong things. You’ll probably see more hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes. — Buffalo Tiger and Harry A. Kersey, Jr., Buffalo Tiger: A Life in the Everglades, pp. 34-122.
So, Kevin, it seems that the Seminoles see Breathmaker as both the Creator and the messenger of God, who gave the Miccosukee people—the Eelaponke—their sacred laws and teachings, much like the Creator and Lone Man in Mandan sacred tradition. Do you agree?
A: Chris, our readers may be a bit confused, in that the Seminole and Miccosukee are one and the same tribe in nearly every way except political. The Miccosukee are the faction that always refused to acculturate. The U.S. federal government resisted recognizing them, until Buffalo Tiger led a delegation in 1963 to meet with Fidel Castro in Havana, who immediately drew up an official nationhood recognition statement and was about to get the USSR, North Korea and others to co-sign. Then Congress stepped in and decided to grant this “unconquered” faction who had managed to defeat the U.S. federal government in the three most costly per-person wars ever waged by the U.S.—the 3 “Seminole Wars”—official recognition.
Buffalo Tiger never went to school, but a shrewder statesman and negotiator has rarely existed. He hired my mom, Patricia Locke, to help with grant writing. In the mid-1970’s, he steered the tribe towards cultural tourism and started the Miccosukee Indian Arts Festival. When he asked my mom if she knew of any cultural performers for the festival, she recommended me. I was invited to perform there every year for about 20 years until Buffalo Tiger retired from public office. I even went on some of my first international trips to tourism development trade shows with the Miccosukee to Spain, Japan, etc. That was all “B.C.” (before casinos). I am deeply connected to Mr. Tiger.
Q: Kevin, What about the prophecy of the return of Breathmaker? Do you think Baha’u’llah fulfills that prophecy? If so, in what way—considering that Baha’u’llah was not from among the Miccosukee people?
A: As Buffalo Tiger asserts, Breathmaker—like all other divine Messengers of God—brought immutable spiritual laws, social laws and prophecies. Mr. Tiger’s generation was keenly aware of the imminent fulfillment of Breathmaker’s prophecies, and persistently guided the people away from materialism. So , yes, Baha’u’llah does fulfill all authentic prophetic traditions from the “prophetic cycle” of humankind’s spiritual development:
It is evident that every age in which a Manifestation of God hath lived is divinely ordained, and may, in a sense, be characterized as God’s appointed Day. This Day, however, is unique, and is to be distinguished from those that have preceded it. The designation “Seal of the Prophets” fully revealeth its high station. The Prophetic Cycle hath, verily, ended. The Eternal Truth is now come. He hath lifted up the Ensign of Power, and is now shedding upon the world the unclouded splendor of His Revelation. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 60.