Title: John Henry Gopher
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Title: John Henry Gopher
Series Title: John Henry Gopher
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C:This is the translation of John Henry Gopher, a member of the original Constitutional Committee
of the Seminole tribe of Florida. John Henry Gopher usually speaks Creek, but today he is
making it convenient for me by speaking Miccosukee. We will go through the first of the
questions. Where did you live in Brighton? Where did you live in 1957?

G:Brighton Reservation.

C:Why do you favor or oppose tribal organization?

G:I am in favor of it. I think that we should be able to do it.

C:Why were you chosen for the constitutional committee?

G:Well, there are some people who are opposed to different things. I was not one of those, I was in
favor of it. Therefore, they put me on the committee.

C:How did Mr. Quinn help with organization?

G:We did not know him before, but he had been working in Oklahoma, and he knew the paperwork,
the regulations, and the things that Washington needs that he can send. He asked the
committee what they needed and they told him and he wrote it down, and helped in that way.

C:Why did the people on the Tamiami Trail refuse to join?

G:In the beginning they were with us. They had joined us but there were certain things that the
Seminole group brought up that they did not agree with. One of them was payment for past
wrongs, things that happened in history, that the Seminoles could get. They did not quite
think that they would go along with that and they opposed that. So, they heard about it and
decided that they did not agree with that and dropped out.

C:Were you elected to an office in the new tribal government?

G:Yes, the committee.

C:I mean elected office.

G:Yes, I was elected and I served three years on the council.

C:How did the BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs] agent influence the tribal government?

G:Mr. Mormon wanted to start something before, but the older Seminole people were not in favor of
it and did not want to do it. But I helped and we got things going.












C:Where did tribal government get its money in early years?


G:Well, in the beginning there was very little money. There was no money at all sometimes for the
workers and the early leaders to use. We helped each other until later when we got some
money. The tribe has some money now. Those of us who worked on it have money, but I
have stayed about the same today as I was in the past.

C:Were council members more concerned with their own reservation or the total tribe?

G:The young people (I include myself as a young person at that time) thought differently from the
older people or the elders. The young people thought about getting things going and the old
people were against it, but they did not say too much. So, we went ahead and got things
done. The leaders thought more of the people as a whole at that time.

C:How has the tribal government been most or least successful?

G:I feel that in the beginning, when the committee laid out the plans, it was good. But today, things
seem to have changed. I think that things have gotten worse. I want to know what is going
to happen.

C:What is wrong?

G:Well, the work that was done to benefit the Seminoles has been kind of mined by the BIA. The
Bureau seems to go against what the Indian people want, even if the Indian people say that
they want something. I feel like the BIA has mined the land at Brighton.

In the beginning, BIA officials were told not to do their own thing. They were to listen to the
Indians and try to respond to the wishes of the Indians, but the BIA has not been doing that.
For instance, there is a big river that goes by the Brighton reservation. It is bigger than it
should be and it is getting into a cattle area. This happened last year and this is what I think
is bad.

C:What about environmental adaptation? You need to talk about the reservation where you lived.
How long have you lived on this reservation?

G:I lived on the Brighton reservation before it was a reservation. I remember it was sometime
around 1915.

C:How has the reservation environment changed over the years in water levels and quality?











G:The land was good, but now people have built canals and water is channeled. When it rains,
water goes down on dry ground and does not stand like it used to. Older people had
prophesied some years ago that this would be kind of like this. We would even have to start
paying for water. Now, I have a bill where I have to pay for water.

C:What about forest cover?

G:There used to be a lot of palmettos at the Brighton reservation. Now people have cleared the land
and there are less of them. People have also got to the point of selling them and that causes
even less of them to be around. I do not know if the present practice that is continuing will
be good. But there certainly are less of the palmettos.

C:What about animal life?

G:People have killed animals. There used to be raccoons around and now there does not seem to be
a lot. The young people today go hunting. There used to be a lot of wild pigs, but there does
not seem to be any around much anymore. I do not know if any bears lived at the Brighton
reservation. The bears lived farther away, but people used to go out and kill them and bring
them back and eat them. There are a few deer still around.

C:What about fish and turtles?

G:There used to be a lot. Now, there are laws against getting turtles. There are some turtles around,
but there are laws against getting turtles. There are fish in the canals and people go out and
fish and get the fish in the canals.

C:What about edible and medicinal plants?

G:There are some around, even Huckleberry. There are plenty of them. But when they clear land,
there becomes less of them. So there does not seem to be a lot of Huckleberry around after
they clear the land.

C:How did you make a living over the years? Hunting and trapping?

G:There was animal life there and I could go out and kill whatever I wanted to eat.

C:What about cattle herding?

G:Yes, I did cattle herding.


C:What about timber cutting?











G:I did not do that.

C:What about agricultural labor?

G:Yes, I did do different types of jobs near Brighton. I would work in tomato fields, and I also
drove tractors.

C:Did you work for the BIA?

G:Yes, I did. I worked at Brighton. I could operate a tractor and I made land improvement for
cattle, if people wanted to improve the cattle and also put in the grass for the cattle. I also
worked for the Seminole tribe. I looked after the water pumps and went over the land to see
how the land was doing.

C:What about other work?

G:I did cattle work and we helped each other along as far as we could.

C:Did you ever live in a chikee?

G:Yes, I did.

C:Did you ever learn how to build one?

G:Yes, I know how to build one very well. I have even taught other people to build one.

C:When and why did you quit living in one?

G:I started living in a house in 1975. I moved from a chikee to a modern house. The reason is that
there was some health workers who said that if land is not good, [if it is] dirty, or if housing
is too open, it is not good health-wise. I went to the tribe and asked for a house, but they told
me that my family was too large and they could not build one for me. I went and borrowed
money to build a house and built one. I still have debts on it.

C:Did your family ever provide any of their food needs by hunting, trapping or fishing?

G:Yes. I did those things because there was no work sometimes.

C:What about raising hogs or cattle?

G:Yes, I raised cattle, but I did not raise any hogs.











C:What about gathering coontie, berries, etc.?

G:Yes, I did gather berries and coontie.

C:What about raising crops like beans, corn, or pumpkin in a garden?

G:Yes, I did some gardening. I did some corn, sweet potatoes and pumpkin, and this supplemented
my food because I did not have a lot of food and a lot of money back in those days.

C:Anything else?

G:I used to work and get an old car to drive to work. Clothes were hard to find, so this is how I
made a living.

C:How did your family travel about the reservation or the town?

G: Sometimes I went by foot, but someone lent me a car. We would go into town to get some
groceries. I had a horse, but I rode it only around the reservation, not into town. I did not
use any canoes because there was no water where I lived on the reservation. I had heard that
at one time people would use nothing but a canoe, but I did not have one.

C:Is the family unit important today for teaching youngsters how to live off the land?

G:Yes, that is good. They should learn survival skills and that is what they are. The elders knew it
and they did that. It is something that we should know. I think it is good that we should
know that.

C:What about passing on cultural traditions and values?

G:That is good. It should be good to help the young people. I talked earlier about the language
being lost which is not good. The older people have talked about it.

C:What about maintaining discipline among the young?

G:Yes, that should be done. Good sense should be taught to the young people as it was done in the
old times. I think that the old time was good and kids today are losing this kind of good
teaching, good sense.

C:What is the biggest environmental problem on the reservation? Is it solid waste disposal,
drainage, or sanitation?











G:Yes. When you have something that you want to throw away which is defective, you have to pay
for someone to pick it up. If you do not pay for it, they will not pick it up. I think that the
tribe should help. I think that maybe if the tribe did help, I would not have to pay for the
waste disposal or such service.

C:Who do you think should take care of these problems?

G:The tribe and the BIA. I suspect someone who can speak is not speaking strongly enough.

C:Is the reservation a better or worse place to live today than in your youth and why?

G:In my lifetime, I have seen the establishment of the tribal government and I thought that the idea
was good. I wish that things were better and I wonder how it can get better. I would like to
talk about it to see how things would be better.

C:This is the end of John Henry Gopher's responses to the Seminole Survey Instrument.




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