In the 1800s, the U.S. Army forcibly moved the majority of Florida’s Seminole Indians to Oklahoma. But a few hundred avoided capture and remained deep in the wetlands and wilderness of South Florida. Today, their descendants are federally recognized as the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

“We’re still known as the unconquered tribe because we never signed a treaty with the U.S. back then,” says 18-year-old Valholly Frank.

She worries climate change could finally push them out. She’s concerned about increasingly dangerous storms and how sea-level rise will affect Big Cypress reservation, where she lived as a young child. She says saltwater creeping inland from the ocean threatens wildlife and water supplies there.

She says maintaining their communities and ceremonial grounds is very important to the tribe –  “because historically that land there is where Seminoles originally survived,” she says.

Frank is one of eight youth plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the state of Florida. The suit aims to hold the government accountable for its contribution to climate change and force the state to take action to limit future warming.

She says it’s time for the government to take steps to preserve her community’s past and ensure its future. 

Reporting credit: Sarah Kennedy/ChavoBart Digital Media