Brevard drops support for naming barrier island after Ponce de Leon
Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Brevard County Florida -  County commissioners rescinded their support for naming Brevard County’s barrier island after Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon.

 

The 3-2 vote Tuesday came after a contentious public comment period that County Commission Chairman Chuck Nelson described as being marred by unnecessary “character assassination” and personal attacks against some of the speakers.

 

“That’s been the ugliest thing I’ve seen and is unnecessary,” Nelson said just before the vote.

 

Commissioners decided to withdraw their recommendation made in August to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names that the barrier island be designated in honor of Ponce de Leon, who landed in the Florida’s East Coast in 1513, possibly near the present-day Melbourne Beach.

 

The public comment was dominated by comments about the explorer, and whether he and his crew committed atrocities against the native people they encountered in the area. Opponents of the Ponce de Leon name, many of whom noted their own Native American heritage during their comments, said it is a historic fact that these atrocities took place. Supporters of the Ponce de Leon name, many of whom noted their Hispanic heritage, said there is no proof of that.

 

Three commissioners — Vice Chairman Andy Anderson and Commissioners Trudie Infantini and Mary Bolin Lewis — voted to rescind the commission’s earlier support for the name designation. Nelson and Commissioner Robin Fisher voted not to change course and to keep in place the Juan Ponce de Leon Island recommendation.

 

Commissioners did not express their views on the historic issues of Ponce de Leon’s behavior while in Florida.

 

The majority of the commissioners followed a recommendation of the Brevard Historical Commission, which last week voted 7-4 to request to the U.S. Board on Geographical Names that “no name for the barrier island be approved until broader community consensus is properly obtained.” There are two proposed names before the federal agency: Juan Ponce de Leon Island or Ais Island, a name designed to honor of the native people who were in the area before Ponce de Leon’s landing.

 

In barrier island communities, city and town councils and commissioners also are split on the naming issue.

 

Rebecca Howie of Winter Springs told the County Commission that Ponce de Leon should not be honored.

 

She called him “one of the first slave traders” of the area that would become Florida, saying that he “pillaged and robbed” the native people. Jack Sanders Jr. of Largo implied that it would be like honoring a Nazi leader. 

 

But Isabel Wright of Palm Bay, second vice president of the United Third Bridge organization that supported the name change, said designating the area as Juan Ponce de Leon Island “is the proper thing to do.”

 

She said the attack on the explorer’s reputation “is about racism.”

 

Cape Canaveral resident Shannon Roberts said the name change represents a “significant opportunity to honor the Hispanic community.”

 

Melbourne Beach resident Frank Thomas said rescinding support for the Ponce de Leon name would amount to an insult to Spain.

 

That fact was demonstrated when one of the Native American speakers who opposed the Ponce de Leon name placed a “prayer tie” — some tobacco wrapped in a small piece of purple cloth that is a sign of peace — on the speaker’s stand, and left it there, in hopes of having a peaceful discussion.

 

One of the supporters the Ponce de Leon name took the item off the stand during his speaking time and gave it back to the group of Native Americans in the audience. Then, one of the opponents placed it back on the stand later in the meeting.

 

“It’s a shame to see people arguing over cultures,” Anderson said after hearing the 16 speakers, who were roughly evenly split on the issue.

 

United Third Bridge President Samuel Lopez said he was disappointed by the County Commission’s vote, but said he will continue to push for the Juan Ponce de Leon Island with the federal agency.

 

Author: Dave Berman

Source: Florida Today

 

 
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