Maintenance and change of 18th-century mission Indian identity:A multi-ethnic contact situation (Florida, Spain)

Gifford J. Waters
Dept. of Anthropology, University of Florida
July, 2005


The Spanish mission system of La Florida had major impacts on the lives and cultures of the various Native American groups in the southeastern United States. To date, many archaeological studies have been conducted to assess such issues as the nature of acculturation among the Indians in response to Spanish colonization, changes in Native American subsistence patterns, and the biological impacts of the missions and forced labor in terms of disease and skeletal stress. While all of these studies have provided researchers with a great deal of extremely valuable information on the experiences and roles of the Native Americans of La Florida during the Spanish colonial period, certain other important issues remain unresolved. Among the most poorly understood of these issues was the role of multi-ethnic interaction and exchange among Native American groups brought into contact through Spanish influenced consolidation. During the mission period Indians from many different tribal groups in the Southeast were forced into new social settings in which they found themselves living among or very near each other. The impact of new multi-ethnic or multicultural contact situations into which the various Native American groups were forced into offers a different kind of approach to the study of Native American culture change than has been traditionally taken by researchers in the Southeast. Of particular interest is the question of how these new, multicultural or multi-ethnic contact situations affected cultural and/or ethnic identity and power relations among the Indians of the southeastern United States. This study will examine the nature of change in Native American society provoked by the aggregation of distinct Native American groups through congregación and reducción in eighteenth century St. Augustine, using both archaeological and documentary sources. Particular emphasis will be placed on the degree to which distinctive cultural expressions among the varied Native American groups living in direct or close contact with each other were maintained or altered. At the heart of this issue will be the examination of how these consolidated multi-ethnic contact situations affected patterned material expressions thought to reflect cultural or ethnic identity among the Indians of the southeastern United States.