We Have a Sacred Native American Site in the Middle of Bustling Downtown
By Tom Austin
Situated at the mouth of the Miami River and rimmed by a bristling 21st-century arsenal of towering downtown condos, the Miami Circle is the remnant of a 2,000-year-old Tequesta village—now a National Historic Landmark. It debuted to the public in February with Native American spiritualist Catherine Hummingbird Ramirez presiding. Now, the 38-foot outline of the original Tequesta ceremonial circle on the south bank of the Miami River is marked by rough chunks of white limestone used as benches—an ideal spot for contemplation. A new riverwalk connects Miami Circle Park to the Brickell Bridge and a public baywalk along Biscayne Bay. By some Miami miracle, a precious scrap of waterfront land has been saved for public use.
The saga of the Miami Circle began in 1998. That year, demolition crews tore down one of my favorite 1950s low-rise apartment buildings to make room for yet another developer’s grand condo vision, uncovering a Tequesta village in the process. The State of Florida and Miami-Dade County raised the funds to buy the property and saved the sacred ground. The Miami Circle, managed by History Miami, is now one of 41 Florida National Historic Landmarks, encompassing such local wonders as the Freedom Tower.
It took 13 years to create the Miami Circle Park, but Miami’s history—our unique water-dependent past, has been properly honored. For the Tequesta, the Miami River connected them to the rich sea life of Biscayne Bay (shark, dolphin and sea turtle remains were found near the site) and to the peninsula’s interior. After that, South Florida was America’s last frontier. The Miami River flowed clear and strong, and roads were extremely limited. Miami was the American Venice, with Biscayne Bay and the Miami River serving as an everyday avenue of transportation for early settlers.
In time, the river became dirtier and even more atmospheric, lined with broken-down freighters, whorehouses and seedy bars—the perfect playground for 1970s Miami teenagers with a taste for the darker side of life. These days, the river is downright respectable. But, with any luck, the Miami Circle Park might indicate that the river, and Miami itself, is a little smarter, too.