Brevard County, FLORIDA - A campaign to name Brevard County's barrier island for Juan Ponce de Leon has rekindled centuries-old grudges between the Spanish and Native Americans.
Organizers are planning a 2013 celebration in Melbourne Beach commemorating the 500th anniversary of the conquistador's Florida landfall. They also want the U.S. Board on Geographic Names to symbolically name the 45-mile beachside stretch from Port Canaveral to Sebastian Inlet in his honor.
But the American Indian Association of Florida "strongly protests" this move.
In an email to various beachside officials, the Winter Park organization's board of directors stated that Ponce de Leon and his men "had no qualms about pillaging, mutilating, raping, and murdering the Ais people, the original inhabitants of the barrier island.
"Naming the island after Ponce de Leon would be seen by indigenous people around the world as the equivalent of honoring a mass murderer," the AIA email states. "We propose, instead, that the island be named Ais Island to honor the memory of its original inhabitants."
The Ais Indians ranged along the Indian River Lagoon in what is now Brevard, Volusia and Indian River counties, according to the Merritt Island-based Indian River Anthropological Society. Shell mounds remain from some of their villages.
Debate continued this month in four Space Coast communities.
City councils in Cocoa Beach and Rockledge approved resolutions supporting the island-naming, while Cape Canaveral and Satellite Beach rejected theirs.
Minutes before Wednesday's vote in Satellite Beach, resident Tom Romanisko said the city was in a no-win situation.
"Mr. Mayor, I have a vision of you going on 'NBC News,' explaining to the American public why you upset the Native American population if you vote 'yes,' " Romanisko said.
"Mr. Mayor, I have the same vision of you explaining why you upset the Hispanic-American population if you say 'no,' " he said.
Brevard County, Melbourne Beach, Melbourne and Indialantic previously adopted resolutions of support.
Sam Lopez, who heads United Third Bridge and the Florida Puerto Rican/Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, is lobbying for Ponce de Leon Island at various city halls. Lopez plans to invite the king and queen of Spain to the 500th anniversary event -- which he hopes will attract international attention to the Space Coast.
On Sept. 6, the Cape Canaveral City Council defeated its Ponce de Leon resolution when a vote ended in a 2-2 tie.
"I'm three-quarters Native American. You're going to name an island after a bunch of murderers?" Frank Kuhn, a Cocoa resident who owns property in Cape Canaveral, asked.
Lopez replied that he also has Indian and Jewish ancestors, and all people are invited to the 2013 celebration.
"You're going to find pros and cons about our history and how we treated the Indians. But guess what? We're in the greatest country in the world, despite whatever happened," Lopez said.
Former Cocoa Beach Mayor Joe Morgan chairs the Brevard County Historical Commission, which supports the Ponce de Leon campaign. He said the Ais Indians were a fierce, non-agricultural, warlike people.
Author: Rick Neale
Source:Florida Today Newspaper
Protest the proposal to name a barrier island in honor of Juan Ponce de Leon: