Indigenous educators and advocates are rallying to urge the City of Miami and developer Related Group to better protect ancient Tequesta artifacts discovered beneath the construction of a new luxury residential high-rise project in Brickell.
In response to the city’s decision to allow construction at the site to move forward, Betty Osceola, a member of the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida, and Robert Rosa, a member of the American Indian Movement, are hosting a two-mile prayer walk May 13 along Biscayne Boulevard.
"We’re advocating so that our ancestors won’t be dug up," Osceola tells New Times. "The purpose of a prayer walk is to educate and use the indigenous forms of prayer, in this case, to educate the public and the City of Miami that they are building on a sacred Tequesta site."
At the site spanning 444 Brickell Ave. and 77 SE Fifth St., Related Group plans to build three towers of up to 82 floors of hotel, office, and retail space, including the high-priced Baccarat condo building, which is already preselling units.
Traces of the Tequesta tribe's sacred items unearthed at the properties date back 7,000 years, with findings including human remains, pumice, lithic or stone weights, and pottery shards, according to a 2021 archaeological assessment.
Osceola voiced concerns this week that heavy construction equipment was damaging valued relics recovered from the excavation.
On April 5, the city's Historical and Environmental Preservation Board opted not to put the brakes on the project. Among other actions, the board withdrew a historic designation proposal for the 77 SE Fifth St. property on the condition that city staff work with Related Group to create a "preservation action plan" within six months of completion of excavation. A separate area around the 444 Brickell property received a protected designation.
Related Group released a statement in April saying it had invested "tens of millions of dollars over the last two years to ensure the archaeological integrity of the project." The company says recovered artifacts have been carefully preserved and that the finished project will memorialize the historical significance of the site.
"We contracted (and paid for) world-renowned archaeologists to painstakingly excavate and preserve all the significant findings with the utmost respect and care. And these expenses have yet to include the cost of implementing the activities laid out by our forthcoming preservation action plan," the statement reads.
The properties are a few hundred feet from the Miami Circle National Historic Landmark, where countless artifacts from the Tequesta tribe were found during excavations in the late 1990s. Miami-Dade County wound up acquiring the Miami Circle property for preservation, and it sits undeveloped on the Miami River across from Brickell Key.
Tribes including the Dene, Lakota, Taíno, and Aztec as well as local advocacy groups such as Unity Coalition are planning to attend the May 13 prayer walk in support of designating the site as sacred ground.
Rosa is encouraging attendees to bring instruments, art, and signs, with phrases like, "Stop the desecration, honor the ancestors, older than the pyramids, and historic designation now," noted on the Instagram @love_the_everglades, which posts Florida environmental and political updates.
"The goal is to protect ancient sites from destructive development and to propose more respectful policies," a post promoting the event reads.
The walk on Saturday, May 13, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., will begin at the southern tip of Bayfront Park, and continue to the Perez Art Museum along Maurice Ferre Park. The group will make pit-stops along the way to break into song, chants, or circle in prayer, Osceola explains.
"If someone wants to sing or dance, they’re welcomed to do so, because for some people, that’s how they pray," she tells New Times. "We usually have drums and flags. It’s going to be colorful."
"These prayer walks are very spiritual for many of us," Osceola says. "Come with peace. Educating is much more productive than just being an angry mob and creating tension."