Buster gives a good personal discussion of the Green Corn Dance, its beginnings, and changes to
it since he was young. This discussion includes the revival of the ceremony at Big Cypress (4-5).
Through this he talks about the decision to ban alcohol at certain ceremonies and of being able to
choose which ceremony to attend because of alcohol. The spirit of alcohol at the ceremonies
plays a role in drunkenness (7-8). To describe the meaning of the corn dance, Buster uses an
analogy of feasts held by members of the Puyallup Tribe in Washington following successful
fishing (3-4), reflecting Buster's contacts with members of that tribe. To describe scratching, he
draws on menstrual cycles, explaining that scratching formerly served the role of a regularly
recurring, rejuvenating ritual for men. Punishment, he says, is a recent use of scratching. This
information also derives from contact with Puyallup Indians, women in particular, who taught
him about fasting and sweating (9-11). Buster notes that many people sought healing in
Christianity when they joined the church, including people with involvement in medicines. He
sees that diabetes is among the greatest health threats today, and he notes that this has resulted
from occupational changes over the last couple of generations (14-17).
At several points Buster discusses cultural preservation. He notes, for example, that young
people today are interested in bilingual education, that it gives them access to knowledge about
such things as their names (18). Stating that a few young people are interested in learning canoe
making, he suggests that this was always something done by only a few people at any given time
(26). He thinks the museum is a "beautiful, wonderful thing" because of what it does to educate
other people who are not Seminole/Miccosukee Indians (27). Explaining prophecies concerning
infrastructural development in the Everglades, Buster relates the lesson that"we are still at war"
and bound to lose (31-32). This follows his recollections of what his great-grandmother had said
about fleeing from US soldiers (28). South Florida Indians have a new situation of abundance
from gaming and other endeavors, and that there is a need to learn how to manage the revenues
from these successes (28).
Some of the more interesting material in this interview concerns Buster's life between the
Miccosukee and Seminole reservations. It comes out first through his involvement with drug and
alcohol rehabilitation programs, for personal need and later to work with them. Second, Buster
has been involved with tribal courts on the Miccosukee reservation, something that Big Cypress
lacks, although they have been considered (20-23). Buster is a Miccosukee Indian, although it is
not clear to which tribe he belongs. His involvement in these two projects could form the basis
for follow-up interviews, as could his relationship with members of the Puyallup Tribe.
Finally, several interviews with men bring out stereotypes about women, for instance, that their
significance comes in things like cooking and domestic work, and as assistants to men. Here this
is stated in relation to the church (23), while in other interviews it has come up when people are
talking about things like the cattle industry.
Interviewee: Andy Buster
Interviewer: Rosalyn Howard
21 April 1999
H: I am meeting today with Mr. Andy Buster. This is April 21, 1999. We are
meeting at his home, which borders on the Big Cypress reservation. Andy, to
what clan do you belong?
H: When and where were you born?
B: 1943, at the edge of the Everglades area on Highway U. S. 41, just a few miles
from where Dade County and Collier County meet. I was born there, in Collier
County. I was not born in a hospital. I was born in a traditional camp setting.
The oak tree that I was born under is still there today.
H: Do you have a Mikasuki name?
B: Yes, I have two. My childhood name would be Shatee. Coming into manhood,
when I was about twelve, they gave another name, which is Fos Shock Chee
Mathee. Now we have bilingual schools, and they have a unique way of spelling
the Miccosukee-Seminole language, but I try to spell phonetically.
H: Who named you those names and why did they choose those?
B: The first one is from my parents. Basically the way that works is that the
grandparents will be asked to name the child, the grandparents or the aunts or
even the parents themselves if they are knowledgeable about the medicine, for
preparing the medicine. What they do is, when they do the medicine they do the
chant. So those names came from those chants, and that would be the healing
of different illnesses. My name is for the cleansing medicine. Then the other
name is the name from my grandfathers or my uncles or the people who were
well-respected and knowledgeable within the culture. When they chose the
name from that person, then I have to carry that name. I represent that to
society. From what I understand, that is like a leader within whatever they
happen to be in: a leader of dancing or within the camp setting or in the
household or even nowadays in different programs and stuff like that. The way it
worked out is that my friend--who is traditional but a non-affiliated government
recognition person--he has the same name, and we have done different dances
together. The name itself clears that person to really do the things that they
represent, that the name represents.
H: So that is what your name represents, some expertise in dancing?
B: In dancing or some sort of leading person within whatever goes on.
H: How do you feel about having both an English name and the two Mikasuki
B: I grew up with it so, actually, I really don=t think anything of it. That is just the
way it is when I have that name. I have this name, but the English name is used
more than my other name. Back when my parents were alive and my
grandparents, they would use my traditional names, but since they left a new
generation came in and basically they use the English names.
H: Do you have a preference for one?
B: Not really.
H: Is there a certain context in which you would use your traditional name, your
Indian name, versus your English name?
B: Yes. For instance, coming up next month, in May, they are producing our Green
Corn Dance ceremony that takes place. That is when they should be using their
H: Do you attend the Green Corn Dance?
B: Yes, I do.
H: What is the purpose of the Green Corn Dance?
B: I met some people up in the Northwest area, which was up in the Seattle area,
and that is the Puyallup Tribe. Their tradition is their fish, salmon fish. They live
off of salmon fish. Around about this time people would go out and fish for
salmon, and the first catch, the person who catches the first, would gather
everyone at the beach. Then he prepares the fish, however small or large. He
prepares it and if it was a pretty-good-sized village, then there would be a lot of
people. Of course, they would bring different feasts and stuff. So they prepared
a feast day at that time. But what this person does is he prepares it and then he
would give the small portions to everybody. When just the bones are left, he
would take those bones and put them back in the water. It is believed that it
travels back to the world where the big fish are, the salmons. Then he tells them
that these people still remember their traditions, their salmon, and then they will
come. Then people would go out and fish, and that prepares them for the winter.
They would dry or smoke or whatever, and that would carry them through the
winter, at that time.
In our Green Corn Dance it is basically the same process. These young people,
they will learn what they choose to nowadays. They would plant corn so that it
would be green by this time [in the old days]. Then they would start clearing out
the areas where they are going to be planting the corn, which would be around
November or December. Back in those days the way they did it, they would clear
the land, a big enough area, and they would let all the trees they cut down dry.
Then they would set the fire to it. When it all burned out they would clear it up,
and that is when they started planting. The ashes would be the fertilizer. That
also keeps the ants and different things away because it is a newly burnt area.
That is how they worked it. By this time there would be green corn and squash
and different things like greens or whatever that would be ready to be harvested.
When they brought the corn and everything to the corn dance ceremony, all of
the clans people would be gathered at that area. They would give to each one of
them, and that was their way of giving thanks for what they had. That included
their health and everything that they had, their children and everything within
their camp. Then, too, they would learn different songs and different dances
from the last year, the same ones but just different people learning. The young
people would gather the different things they had made so that they would sell to
other people, this is what they made, and sharing in that way. On the fourth
night, that is when the naming ceremony takes place. At that time the medicine
bundle carrier, and all that they represent, that medicine bundle, they gather
everybody at that area. What they would do is that before midnight they would
take corn and roast it. It is believed that when the smoke rises in the creator=s
face, he looks down and realizes that these people still remember their
ceremony. They give him thanks. In that way he would bless them for another
year. That is basically how that operates.
It is a beautiful ceremony, and there is a lot going on because it is a four-day
ceremony. On the first day they do the opening. On the second day they do the
fire-gathering ceremonies. Then on the third day they would have a feast. All
the women cook, and the men would go and hunt and everything, so they would
have a feast day. On the fourth day would be the fasting. They would fast all
day and all night. There would be dancing all night. The next day, on the fifth
day, on the fifth morning, they would break that fast.
H: I understand that the people here on Big Cypress just started having the Green
Corn Dance again a couple of years ago. Why did they stop, and did you
participate with some other group?
B: Yes. I mostly participated with the ones on the Tamiami Trail in the Everglades
area, which is Miccosukees, and also the ones up with the Brighton people,
which used to be just around the Fort Pierce area but now it has moved up to
[the] Yeehaw junction area. I was participating with them. The way this came
about, the medicine man who was with the Miccosukee started living over here.
Then I guess he decided to have the corn dance over here. Then there was
space provided for them. All of the other corn dances around have liquor
involved--beer, drinking alcohol. But this one is dry, it is a non-alcoholic corn
dance ceremony. I have been there. It is very nice, and I like it. My wife and I
will be going back again because that will be the place that we prefer to bring our
grandchildren. [At] all of the other places that are out there, too, drinking got
really bad for a while. But now the young people seem to be more in to what is
really going on in the ceremonies, so they don=t drink as much, so it is okay. For
a while it was drink and party. Although they had people doing ceremonies and
stuff like that, but the younger people, they were more having parties on the side.
H: Is there one person in charge of it, or are there other people?
B: Most of the clan=s people are in charge of it.
H: So each clan has a certain responsibility?
B: Yes. It takes all of them to do the whole ceremony, it involves everybody.
H: Does each clan have the same type of responsibility each time?
B: Not necessarily. They have their part to do. Like the Otters, they would be
representing the medicine, and each family still works the same way because
different clans have to be representing the medicine bundle, working with them
and preparing for the people to use. In that way they use different clans. If it is a
Bird, Bird always leads whatever it is that they do. Then whether it is an Otter or
whether it is a Panther, they would follow, or the Wind clan, or the Bear clan, and
so on and so forth. The Wind clan and the Bird clan are usually the ones that
would lead, they would do the opening for different ceremonies that take place
within those four days.
H: Are outsiders allowed to attend or only tribal members?
B: If they are invited, yes. They get invited by different clans of people, and then
they would go and see what really goes on there, sometimes on the last day or
sometimes in the middle of the duration of the four days.
H: You mentioned that for a while they got into a lot of drinking. What about thirty
years ago? Was it different then, and it became more of a drinking party?
B: Thirty years ago, as I can remember, it seemed like they were more into drinking,
although there were a lot of elderly people who were there, but they would also
drink. At that time I was ten or twelve or something like that, so in that way I
remember it seemed like everybody was drinking. But when I was about six or
seven years old, I finally realized what was going on around me. My uncles
would be drinking, and my mom would be selling beer and different drinks, like
wines or whiskey or whatever. To me, back then, that was the way it was. That
was the way that ceremony took place. Then as I grew older, when I was fifteen
or somewhere along there, whenever the ceremony took place I would not
participate in the actual ceremonies, but I would be around, and I would be
drinking with my friends and stuff like that. But once in a while I would do
something. If I would be asked to do something, then I would have to do it. I am
committed to that. It was like that for a while. Then in the 1980s it started drifting
back to its original course. I am real happy to see now that it is more into .., for
example, you have a choice whether you want to go to one that is alcohol-free or
whether you want to go to a different [one]. That=s what makes it different.
Then again we are all related. In that way, I participate with the ones, like I said,
we like the one that is a non-alcohol ceremony. It is also believed that when they
do the opening on the first day that they invite all of the spirits because they have
been there. The ones who were there carrying the bundle and doing the
ceremonies before, they are invited to be there when the opening is taking place.
They believe in spirits. All of the spirits are still there. The spirit of the liquor has
to be there, too. He will be there, and they will tell the young people, you can
drink it but not to get drunk. If you want to drink, you can do that. AgainBthis is
another beliefBwhen you are drinking, when the spirit of alcohol gets in the body,
when people are participating in dances and different activities that go on, then
alcohol is there participating. That is the way they teach it. So when you resist it,
the spirit of alcohol will fight you. That is kind of what happened because some
people did not want drink to be brought to their ceremonies. But they would bring
it and then, the first thing you know, everybody was drunk.
H: Did that happen with the women as well as the men, drinking?
B: Yes. Now I guess they are kind of accepting it for what it really is and respecting
it for what it is, because it is a medicine, too. They use the alcohol for cleansing
and for different purposes.
H: What about scratching?
B: The best way I can describe scratching would be, first of all, women have their
moon, their monthly periods, and they go through this cleansing ceremony in that
way. We believe that they go through it. They have their own ceremonies that
take place on a monthly basis. But the men go through life without that, only
when they do a different ceremony for cleansing, using the medicine. When they
are children, they want to talk. But if they get lazy or if they don=t want to do
their chores and stuff like that, then they are told that, your blood is getting too
thick so you must get some scratches. Then, too, the way that works is that it is
for cleansing, the blood rises in the heavens for a recognition of what you have
and what you are willing to give. Again it has to do with the spiritual thing, the
spirits in the universe will receive it. Another teaching of that is that it is just like
the medicine man that has the bundle of medicine always has to hunt, has to kill,
so that when fresh blood spills, the medicine bundle itself rejuvenates from that.
We will give our blood to the universe. It is the same thing. What returns is
health. That is the way that works. A lot of the people, a lot of the parents now,
they use it as a control thing for the children. They use it for punishment, so it is
kind of like they have forgotten the original teaching. I guess that it is a good
thing to use sometimes but, like I said, when the child doesn't want to do the
chores, then they were told .... When I was little my mother would ask me to do
something. I would be playing and not do the chore I was supposed to. Then,
she would say, you are going to get some scratches. Then I would. I would get
some scratches. It is a relief of feeling that you get because you know what it is.
Most of the time, during the Green Corn Dance ceremony, you have to get
scratches and stay up and do the different ceremonies all throughout the duration
of the four days and then into the night on the last night. That is the only way you
can eat corn, grow the corn. You stop eating the corn, the green corn, in the
November area until May or June, when they have a ceremony. Then you
participate. Last year my wife and I had to leave early, so I didn't get my
scratches at the Green Corn Dance ceremony. So I have not eaten the green
corn all throughout the year. Last time I had to travel out of town and I didn't
participate in Green Corn Dance so, there, I didn't eat [green corn] for about four
years. It is believed that if you eat without doing the ceremony or the ritual that
you are supposed to do, your spirit will become weak. So we must follow that
tradition. If we don=t do the ceremony, then we don=t eat. It is just self-
H: You don=t eat the corn? You don=t eat any corn?
B: Green corn. You can have popcorn and stuff like that, but when it is green, when
it is still in ...
H: Have you ever fasted?
B: Yes. I did a lot of fasting when I started learning about different spirits or
ceremonies when these people up in the Northwest, the Puyallup Tribe, taught
me different ceremonies, like doing the sweat lodges and stuff like that. We had
to fast on a monthly basis. They were mostly women who I got involved with, all
the elderly women within the communities. We did a lot of things with the
women. Like with the junior high girls, we had a sweat with them. We took them
up into the mountains, with the snow about that high. This was like this time of
the year, in June.
H: About two feet of snow?
B: Yes. Way up in the mountains. What they needed was the male energy to work
with them. I just happened to be around, so they chose me. Then they taught
me to fast on the full moon. Each full moon I had to fast. Then, on the fourth day
of fast, we would sweat. Then we would break fast at that time. On the second
day, or the first day, we would do what they call the Indian bath. You go up in the
mountain again, through the snow. You find the river; the river up there is about
an inch. A stream is what it is. It is ice water. You walk through there. You walk
through the ice, and up to your knees will be turning blue. Then you come to the
stream, and then you take a bath. You take the cedar boughs and bathe with
them. That cleanses and heals. So you would do that, and then on the fourth
day you will sweat. But when I came back from thereBthis is going back a few
yearsBthen I was fasting, and they gave me permission to do the sweat lodge, to
build the lodge and do the cleansing or any kind of healing ceremony within the
lodge. I still do that today. Whenever I have to do that, I have to ask permission
from my teacher. It is not a phone call. It is in the form of prayer. When I ask,
they will receive the message, and then they will grant it. Then it is done. That is
how that works. That is something else that they taught me, communicating
H. So your teacher, what you referred to as a teacher, is a spirit, or is this a person?
B. No, it=s a person that lives up in Tacoma, Washington. But it is all the spirit,
because those teachings were handed down from generation to generation.
H. Can you tell me about black drink, what it is and how ... [End of Side A, Tape 1]
B. About the black drink, I have heard a lot about it, and I have also read about it
and everything. To be truthful with you, I don=t know what it is because most of
the medicine that we use, you drink it and it is for cleansing. You either vomit it
out or just let it flow naturally. Or you bathe with it, and you wash with it. The
willow, when you use the willow bark, the inner bark that you use for the
cleansing or different healing medicine, if you let it stay in the water for a couple
of days, it will turn black. So that may be what they are talking about, but I don=t
Like I said, I worked with a man in Coralis, New Mexico, and he has a tracking
project that he has been working with for the past twenty-five years. It is a
tracking project in which you go out and track the animals as well as the
spirituality with different people. It gives you a lot of open mind; that is a different
type of ceremony than we do. We use smudging, and we have a gathering in the
circle. Then we will talk while we sit down, and each morning we share different
dreams that we had dreamed the night before, or what we woke up with that
morning, or what we plan to do, or something that is bothering us that we want to
bring out. That is the time to do it. This is what we do with different people who
get invited to participate in the tracking project. With that, we mostly work with
the spiritual part of the people because that is where the healing comes from.
Also, we invite people who represent the big companies, like Dupont and like
Shell Oil company, that drain the Earth or use from the Earth whatever the Earth
provides. They use it in making the chemicals and different things. We invite
those people to see what really lives within nature. The whole idea is for them to
see what they are doing to nature when they are draining it out for chemicals and
H: Do you get much participation from them?
B: We usually get at least thirty or thirty-five people from different areas, like
attorney generals from different cities. They are interested in camping out and
seeing what is really going on, so they will come. Then we have some regulars
who come each time. That is where they get their peace of mind. That takes
them away from the desk. That is same for us, too. Basically I have an office
that I work with, so it is a get-away thing.
H: What kinds of roots and herbs do medicine men use?
B: I am not too familiar with the names. Like I said, you have the willow, and you
can use the root, or the tree trunk itself, or the leaves. Also, there are bay
leaves, and basically they use the leaves. There are so many different medicinal
herbs that are out there that I just am not that familiar with. In that way, because
I really do not do medicineBI can do some that I have been taughtBif it is
anything major, the medicine people will have to take care of that.
H: How do people become recognized and acknowledged as certified healers or
B: Through teachings, like my teacher of the sweat lodge. In different types of
ceremonies they teach you when you are ready. Then they will tell you that you
can go and do whatever people ask of you.
H: So is there a kind of apprenticeship?
B: More or less, yes.
H: What are some of the major illnesses that confront the Seminole people?
B: Basically now I think it is more diabetes and cancer, of course, and hypertension,
and that sort of thing.
H: Has the incidence of hypertension and diabetes changed over the last thirty
B: They seem to be. From my point of view, within the last fifteen years they have
increased a lot.
H: Have the peoples diet and eating habits changed also in that time?
B: Not as much as I would like to see. Yet, it begins with me, and I have a problem
myself because I am a diabetic as well. That is something that is really hard to
work with because it requires a lot of self-discipline. It is very hard because it is
food. In that way it is hard to cut back. That is the problem that I have.
H: Do you think that the diet has changed a lot today from what it was thirty years
ago and that that change in diet may have had an impact on the increase in
hypertension and diabetes?
B: Quite so, yes. There is another little story that I usually talk on whenever we do
different presentations, whether it is [on] diabetes or whether it is a lecture on
alcoholism or different things. Back in the early 1920s or going back to the mid-
1800s, these people, the Seminole and Miccosukee people, were living in
different areas, like in the Everglades and up here in the Big Cypress area, or up
around Okeechobee, and in different areas like West Palm Beach. They were
scattered all over. Before the highways and everything the people would come in
and see these people living in camps, in open huts. They were living out in the
open. Then they would see different things like wood carving, baskets, and
different things, and they would buy from them. They would take that money and
go down to a trading post and get canned goods and stuff like that and so on,
and so forth. But before then these people were active. They were active playing
in their villages and their camp. They would go out in the garden. They would
harvest the garden and different things. They would care for their children and
stuff like that, so they were active. The men were active going out hunting and
tending gardens and stuff like that. So they were pretty healthy then. They also
were eating the freshly killed meat, there were not canned goods or anything.
They would preserved in a way, they smoked the meat and then they would put it
up. They were working with it in that way. But once they learned that the money
comes in, they would buy different things from them, then they would go down
and get canned goods and different things like soft drinks and different kinds of
candy and whatever. But they also had sugar cane. In that way they always had
sugar, too. But then different candies came in. Then they learned that they
could sit down in the shadeBthey would not have to go out in the sunBand they
could make things and they would sell it. It became that, basically, some of them
have problems with obesity and so on and so forth. That is when the diet started
changing, all the hypertension and diabetes and different things came into their
lives. That is basically how it became. My grandfathers were very traditional
people. When I was twelve years old they were still gardening and different
things. My uncle would go out hunting, and my dad would go hunt. I would go
with them. Sometimes they would go [for] several days. My grandfather on my
mothers side lived to be 130.
B: Yes. My grandmother, his wife, was 119.
H: Wow. What was your grandfather=s name?
B: Charlie Billie.
H: And your grandmother, who lived to be so old?
B: My grandmother, she didn't have a name. She was called grandmother,
Grandmother Billie. [Both laugh.]
H: Do Seminoles seek out medicine men and native healers for particular illnesses
and then maybe Western doctors for other types of illnesses.
B: It is more the Western medicine now, but again they seem to be gradually going
back to their own medicine healings now. That is basically what I see going on in
this Seminole community over here in Big Cypress as well as in the Brighton
H: So there are practicing medicine men and medicine women now?
H: Do you know whether they are passing that on or training younger people?
B: They really urge the young people to participate in the teachings. To some
degree there are students, yes, but not as much as it should be. Then again, I
guess that is the way it has to be at this time.
H: I would like to ask you now some questions about religion. Since the Baptist
ministers came to convert Seminole Indians, how have peoples values
changed, or have they changed?
B: I would say, in the 1930s or in the 1940s on up through the 1970s, they were
more into Christianity, and also it was new to them. Then, because they were
told that ..., it is like the same with what I said about the different crafts that they
did, they found it was much easier than going out. I think it kind of appeared as
the same thing to them, to our people, that you can have a book, or you can do
your prayers, and then the healing will come in that way. They would go to
church and ask for healing or whatever. Again, another thing is that it was new,
and it was brought to them. Before then their lives were more based on
spirituality, which can be a religion if you like because they did different things,
like you get up in the morning and acknowledge your surroundings and different
things. That was the way of giving thanks, by acknowledging. So when this was
new, even the medicine men--who were really involved in their medicines and
their spiritual teachings--were involved and got into Christianity. But they would
still practice their teachings as well. The way that came about, as I see it, is that
these Western teachings have come upon us, and so we have to live with it.
That is how that became so. Basically they kind of just went into Christianity and
started living in that way. Some of them just kind of ignored their teachings and
just went with Christianity. Now I see the young people are more interested in
their own cultural teachings because they see they can get the name and stuff
like that. That has been going on for the past ten or fifteen years. The thing of it
is, too, is that they are learning. They learn the other ways and now they can
learn their own teachings. Most of the schools that we have now are bilingual. I
am happy to see that, but I encourage the young people to really learn both well
so that they can utilize both teachings and survive in that way.
H: The people who chose to adopt Christianity and the people who did not choose
to adopt it, how has that affected relations between them, or has it affected their
B: Back in the early 1950s, when I came to realize what was going on around me,
they were, like my parents, all related, they would visit and yet they forbade us to
participate in their churches and schools and stuff. I was brought up knowing
that I could not go to school.
H: Why was that?
B: Because my mothers side of the family was really against this Americanizing, or
however you want to call it. Yet the way they were practicing back then was that
they could send their children, not all of them but some, to learn so that they
could help their people in that way. That is the way it was practiced for a while
by the time I came along. My mom was really against me going to school. I
wanted to go to school. My dad was for it, because my dad was Christian as
well, but my mom was not. That was the way I was brought up. There was
much love. Actually, I was spoiled. My dad believes, but he does a lot of the
different medicine ceremonies and different things, stuff like that. They would get
along but when it came to what I might do, he would want me to do different
things that my mom would be against. I guess in a way I would finally learn to
speak. When I was very young, before the age, I got my drivers license. I lied
about my [age], and my dad backed me up. It was like one year or something
like that. Back in those days I could get my drivers license or my operators
license at sixteen. I was only about fifteen, but I lied about my age because we
didn't have to have birth certificates to prove that we were. If our parents said
that this was the date, that was recognized in that way. By the time I was sixteen
I had my own car. I was working in a service station earning my own money by
that time, even though my mom was pushing me in everything that I did.
Anyway, many years later, like in the 1980s, I got into alcoholism and drug
abuse. I used drugs and alcohol, and I lost everything. Then I started looking
into recovering from all of this substance abuse, recovering in that way. I got into
an AA program and started abstaining from all alcohol and drugs. My next step
was that I wanted to become Christian. So I did. My mom had passed away in
the early 1960s. Since my dad was into Christianity he always told me, church
work is good, and you ought to get into it. My aunt was alive, so I told her this
was what I wanted that is what I am going to do. So she asked me, that means
you will not be participating in the Green Corn Dance ceremonies and different
ceremonies. I said, I will still be involved, I will still do it, but I just want to get into
this and see what is going on there. So I am Christian as well. I got involved in
church and I became a deacon within the church. After a while the church itself
kind of fell apart. So every now and then I go to church, but not that often.
Nowadays I am with my wife. We have only been married about six months. So
our weekends are never free. We do things. We are both in recovery of the drug
abuse and alcohol, so now we work with different people. We do meetings and
stuff like that, and I am currently involved with the rehab program that
Miccosukee has. I am now acting director of that facility.
H: Is that your primary occupation?
B: At this time I have that as well as being tribal traditional judge, as well as having
to care for the substance abuse program, as well as being a consultant for the
culture and so on. On a quarterly basis we have meetings where we teach the
H: Here at Big Cypress?
B: In the Miccosukee reservation.
H: I have just one more question about the churches. You said the church fell apart.
B: It kind of divided up because, I guess, it was politics or whatever.
H: Is that why they split from the First Seminole Baptist, and they have the other
B: I think so. The non-denominational churches, there is one there, and there is
one at Miccosukee, and in Brighton. In every reservation there seems to be non-
denominational churches there to use, besides the Baptists. But I am a Baptist.
H: Tell me a little bit about the tribal judge. This is the first time I have heard about
it. What kind of justice system do you have that you administer here?
B: What we have is that, back in the late 1960s and early 1970s in the Miccosukee
community, the elders decided that we would have a tribal court because we put
in place the public safety at that time, which is known now as the Miccosukee
Police Department. So, the next step was to establish the court with the elders
and different people. I was married with a Miccosukee at that time, and she was
pretty much involved with what goes on within the tribal administration. Then she
was over in the clinic. When we got married I started going into working with the
court and also got involved in the drug abuse program, the drug and alcohol
prevention program, even though I was still using and drinking. We would get
together and we had some people who would interpret the law that we called
contemporary law. Then we had our own traditional laws. We started writing
codes. The way we practice today is that we have a contemporary judge and a
traditional judge and we also have local judges who sit on each case. We deal
mostly with misdemeanors, family disputes, and such things. At first, when we
would put the issues of law and order together, most of the different attorneys
thought that, that was kind of defeating the law. Yet, the way it wasBbecause our
law is more strict than contemporary lawBwe kind of compromised. We basically
had to deal with traditional laws and the contemporary laws. These two judges
come to an agreement, this is the way we will impose the sentence to whatever
the case may be. It is a very interesting and unique set-up.
H: Tell me a little bit about the difference between the Miccosukee reservation and
the Big Cypress reservation.
B: Actually there is no difference. The only difference is the ethnic mixture, they
are the Seminole. For example, Democrats and Republican. Like I said, we are
all related. We basically do the same things at the Miccosukee reservation, it is
they are Seminoles. So while we have the gaming facility, they have
clinics, and they have schools. The only difference is, too, that there are more
Seminoles than Miccosukees. Currently Miccosukees are only a little over 400,
whereas the Seminoles are around 2500, or something like that. We basically
deal with the same people ... [End of Side B, Tape 1]
H: Your court has jurisdiction over people on the Miccosukee reservation as well as
B: Currently, the way it is working now is that when they, over in the Miccosukee
area, like this, for example, this is the Miccosukee reservation area.
H: Where your house is?
B: Yes. If a Seminole commits something within the boundaries of the
Miccosukee=s jurisdiction, then they are liable to the Miccosukee tribal court.
The tribal leaders, or the police department, have to work with each other. In that
way, if they want their people to go to a federal, state, or city court, then they will
ask for it. Most of the time, whatever is committed within the Miccosukee judicial
jurisdiction area, they usually come to our court, and we will settle the
differences, whatever they are. It is just like if you go to a metropolitan area and
commit a crime, then you answer to that system.
H: Does Big Cypress have their own tribal court?
B: No. They have talked about it, so they might get it going in the future. But
H: Let me ask you a couple more questions about the church. What kind of roles do
women play in the Christian church?
B: From what I know, they hold different positions, like the Sunday school teachers.
The main part I see is that they do much of the cooking and providing in that
way, as well as the child care. Mostly men are the deacons. I do not know of
any deaconesses yet, but there may be that I am not aware of. But mostly those
who serve the office of the church are men.
H: What roles do women play in the traditional religion?
B: The way they are well-respected in that way is that they bear children. In that
way they are the ones who provide life. I am not sure how to put it into words
except that they are well-respected, and they also have much healing
knowledge. I guess, in a way, they feel that they will deal with children and
different issues within their society that they are more familiar with, with what
really goes on. Pretty much in this society, too, they are the ones who make
decisions because they are the ones who make things happen.
H: The annual fair that is held in Hollywood, the pow-wow, how does that preserve
or change Seminole culture?
B: I think much of it has to do with arts and crafts and food booths that they do.
Most of them now travel to different pow-wows throughout the country and do
their selling in that way. That has changed within the last ten or fifteen years.
Some of the people who worked within my court system, there are a couple of
people who dash out to different pow-wows, to different areas that they will have
to go. They would be off for a whole week to do that, but they would make it up.
They would make it known up front that they would be doing this so things work
out. They always do the things that they need to do and get that out of the way
and then they would go. In that way it does not affect the system that much.
H: You mentioned that one of the things that you are involved in is cultural
preservation, and you have these meetings, you said, four times a year. What
kinds of activities do you do during these meetings?
B: Mostly talk on teachings and share my experiences, sometimes about when I
was a kid, learning. I will share stories, different stories. Talk on the teachings.
But the main idea is to preserve the language, so what is mostly spoken in that
conference is the Mikasuki language. They are recorded as well, so they can
refer to it at a later time.
H: Where did you grow up?
B: I mostly grew up in Naples.
H: How is the housing, and when did you move to this area?
B: My wife and I just moved over here a year ago last January. Before that I lived in
Naples. I lived in a Miccosukee community. I lived in Miami. But mostly in the
H: How is the housing different today? I mean, you have a beautiful house here.
How is that different from when you were growing up?
B: When I was growing up, it was what we called a chickee, the palm fronds,
thatched roofs. Over in Naples where I grew up we have a village. My mom and
dad started a village. It is still there and pretty much traditional, except the
chickees where I lived have walls around it and are divided into different rooms.
That is the way I chose to do it. That kind of caught on, so everybody thought to
put up the walls. That is how it is today. Up until at least twenty or thirty years
ago, people were still living in the open, thatched house environment, or chickee.
Pretty much today there are just regular houses. I have a step-daughter, who is
my wife=s first daughter, she is currently living in the house now. She has three
sons, and she wants to have a camp-setting house. She wants the palm fronds
and thatched roof, but she would like a house, with the walls and everything,
back rooms and a kitchen and stuff like that. But, she wants to have the kitchen
on the outside, in a different chickee. She wants to have a little camp setting.
H: Do you know how to build a chickee?
B: Yes. If I have to, I can.
H: People who do build the camps, like your step-daughter wants to, you have
already told me what she wants to use hers as, but how do other people use
them now? I notice that people who live in houses still have chickees also, in
B: Yes. They prefer to have a chickee in the back so that they can do some things.
Like when they have a family gathering and stuff like that they will use that to go
and sit under. Sometimes they have what we call a cook chickee, where they will
cook or do barbecue and stuff like that, when they have a family cook-out.
H: Do you think skills like canoe-making are dying out and if so, why?
B: In a way, because there is not that much interest. I think that is why. But I also
know that there are a couple of young people who are interested in it, so it is not
really dying out. Even back in the old days there were only a few people who
would make canoes, who would have the skills to do it. So, I think it is still kind of
the same, but still there was the canoe-making progress. It just kind of picked
up, I would say, within the last ten years. The chairman, James Billie, was
interested in it. Then the next that came was the fiberglass one. In Miccosukee
we have five or six fiberglass canoes, dugout-type canoes, and it is pretty handy.
H: Do Seminoles or Miccosukees build these fiberglass boats?
B: I think there is somebody within the community who makes them but at first I
think they had them made by different companies.
H: What about activities like alligator wrestling? Has that changed during the last
B: Within the last, again, five or ten years or so, quite a bit has changed in the
fashion of the way they do it. Also, there is more non-Seminole/Miccosukee who
are more involved in it. It must be, maybe, twenty years or so. Up until then the
only ones who were doing it were Seminoles and Miccosukees.
H: The Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum, have you ever visited that museum?
H: What do you think of it?
B: I think it is a beautiful, wonderful thing that it is there because it talks about the
history and the culture, and it shares with a lot of people throughout the United
States, even out of the United States, with the different people that come to it. I
think that is one thing we need to do, that is to share what we are about, what we
are now. I think that is very important.
H: In the last thirty years, the Seminole tribe has made major economic changes,
such as in agriculture, livestock, education, business activities. How have these
changes affected your life?
B: I guess in a way it affected me in that it made me more aware of the conditions
within my community. Over in Naples I grew up with the non-Indian people. I
was always involved in doing different things since I was working in a service
station at an early age. I have learned how to do different things, like working on
cars or keeping house or whatever, different things. As far as the economic
reasons, I think it made me more aware of the future as well as the past, what it
was like, what it is like now, and what it could be in the future. In that way I think
I am more cautious about the future, more than the present. I talk on this when I
talk with the young people, that we need to be aware because with all of the
resources that we have, like the gaming and everything like that in which the
people get the sums of money that they get, they need to know how to manage.
They do, but you need to reinforce it.
H: Do you know much about computer technology and how that has affected the
B: Not as much as I would like.
H: Okay. [Tape interrupted.] What do you know about Seminole history? We were
talking before about why there is a group called Miccosukee now and Seminole,
so could you give me the background of that?
B: As much as I could. As I said earlier, different people were living in different
areas, like up in West Palm Beach and up around Okeechobee area. Some lived
in the Fort Myer=s area. This was before the highways were put in. Before that,
for example, my mothers mothers mother, when she was little, she
remembered when they were running away from the soldiers when they were
coming into this area. As I said earlier, my family was separated because of
Christianity. They chose to live that way, and my family chose to live in their
traditional ways, so that is how we were separated. We are still family, but they
were more into a modern way of living than my people at that time. Why they
chose the Miccosukee was that before the warrior named Wildcat, who was with
Osceola, was captured, when they drifted into the swamps of the Everglades, the
swamps of Florida area, he was saying among his people, we are now in the
area of the Everglades, the swamp area, and he said to himself, I can live like a
pig, but I am mighty. So the Miccosukee, AMicco is king and ASukee is a hog
or a pig. That is why they chose that, because Wildcat said, I can live in the
swamp like a pig, but I am mighty. That is where that name came from, the fact
that they lived in the swamp of the Everglades area. They took that name.
H: And they chose that after the 1960s?
B: Yes, during the 1960s. They had to do a lot of work. There were different
meetings and meeting with different people. They were struggling because the
counties were taking over where they lived. What they wanted to do was
preserve the area where the people lived, like up in the Naples area where I grew
up and down in the Miami area, where they are now. That was before the
preserve for the entire Indian tribe, [which took] acreage within the boundaries of
Okeechobee and Palm Beach and different areas, like Fort Myers, up around
Punta Gorda, and so on. But little by little it got reduced. They saw that they
were losing it and that they were going to be driven out again. That is why they
were looking for ways to preserve plenty of the area for their people. The only
way was to do what the Seminoles did, to establish the reservation, which then
became recognized by the federal government. So that is how they did it. They
established themselves in 1961, I think it was, and became known as
H: Why didn't they stay with the Seminole group, the recognized Seminole group?
B: Because they were more into Christianity.
H: Who was?
B: The Seminoles. The Miccosukees just chose to stay within their original
teachings. Yet they also knew that they were going to go, when they established
a form of reservation, they knew they had to put in a school and everything like
that, but they still chose to be traditional in that way. So until this day, our school
is not compulsory; if they want to keep their children out, they can. When I came
to work with the Miccosukee Tribe back in the early 1970s, I got on the school
board because I believed in education. That was something that I wanted but
was never really permitted, but I knew it was important for the people. So I got
on the school board, and I was working with the school back then, in the early
1970s, when the enrollment of the school was about nineteen, and there were
only about six in attendance. Today we have well over 100 enrolled, and pretty
much about 100 percent in attendance.
H: So there has been a change in the attitude of the parents toward education?
B: Yes. Back then when I started, in the early 1970s, the parents were more
traditional, and the children who were enrolled at that time when I came to work
are the grandparents today. They learned that way of life, so they encouraged
their children to go to school. So the grandparents are also reinforcing.
H: And you are a Miccosukee, correct?
H: Tell me what else you might have learned from your grandparents about the
history, the wars.
B: This is kind of like my favorite. I was born, like I said, on the county line of the
Collier County and the Dade County area, and my uncle would farm and have a
garden in the Everglades area. We would have a canoe, or we would have an
airboat. If it was during the drought season, then we walked. The water was
pretty high at that time, as I remember. He was sitting around the campfire. We
had just had dinner and he was talking, telling a story all of what the future was
going to bring and things like that. He was talking and when you looked out you
saw little hammocks here and there, but mostly you saw water up to the horizon.
You did not see anything. Once in a while you saw an airplane fly through, but
not that often. There were not many airboats. I was about six years old then.
He said that he was told by his grandparents that one day, these people who are
over in Miami and different areas, the white people, when they start something,
they are going to finish it. So in teachings of that, he was telling that we were at
war and that we are still at war. Somewhere along the way they are going to
defeat us. We are still at war, no matter where you are. That was something
that we needed to be aware [of]. In the process of telling me that he said,
someday there are going to be roads through here, through the Everglades. U.
S. 41 was already from Miami up to Tallahassee then. Then there would be
houses here. They would dry up the Everglades and build homes, and it would
become a town. He said, too, that this might happen while you are still here. It
could happen in your grandchildren=s time frame. Then he passed on, and
many years later the Alligator Alley, 1-75, came across. Then I realized this is
what he was talking about. By U. S. 41, down where I was born, in that area,
they started putting in what they called the jetport. They started building the
airport, but they were kind of held back, for whatever the reasons were. But it is
still there. The landing strips are already made and are still there. When they
start building that up again, then the town will start building up around it. This is
something else that I did not ask him; how he knew, how they knew.
H: That these things were going to happen?
B: Yes. It is like over in the Naples area, the golf course are being built within the
swamps of the cypress or the pines. Where a bunch of pines were, they just
clear it out. I was told when I was young that these things will happen, so in that
way I really do not have any problem with it because that is just the way it is. It is
what you call progress.
H: But this progress has really changed the environment here, and I wonder what
you think about how it has changed and how it has affected how people make a
B: As far as the Seminoles here, what I see is that economics changed quite a bit of
their environment and their natural way of living. They were basically cowboys.
Now I think the cow business is kind of fading out because there is not that much
money in the beef. A lot of them, like my wife=s relatives, are going into the
sugarcane business because that is up at this time. Around here, since it has
gone from different things that they do, I see a change in that way. Within maybe
fifteen years time they probably will have the cows, but they will more or less
have chosen to live in the ranch type of living, and in that way they will have
horses. My wife has a horse. We talk about bringing it here, but So
anyway, there are quite a bit of changes taking place, like watching my
grandsons. They are going to be living in times that are much different than what
we saw growing up.
H: When you said with the Seminole, are the same changes occurring with the
B: Pretty much the same.
H: Well thank you again. I really appreciate your time.
B: You=re welcome.