Samuel Proctor Oral History Program
Interviewee: Sadie Cypress
Interviewer: Rosalyn Howard
23 April 1999
Helene Johns Buster
Helene Johns Buster is a nurse at the Big Cypress Medical Center. This interview is important
because Buster is personally and professionally involved in or has experiences with many issues
central to this project. Born of mixed parentage, Buster discusses life as a "half-blood" among
"full-bloods," changes in the use of Indian names (e.g., 2-3, 15), and struggles between the uses
of Indian languages and English. Raised in Brighton, Buster spoke Creek as a first language;
now married to a Mikasuki-speaker, she grapples with the challenges of teaching her children
Indian languages when their tendency is to speak English (e.g., 15-20).
Buster worked with the tribe in their initial bingo ventures and then with the now-defunct
emergency medical program. The majority of her work history has been with health, and this
interview provides some very good information about diabetes and changes in health care at both
Brighton and Big Cypress (35-40), which she see as tied to economic and social changes (43-
44). Her experiences with drug and alcohol recovery-personally and professionally-offer
important insights into a set of large problems that many in the Seminole tribe are and have been
confronting over the last generation (40, 53-58). She discusses the uses of Western and Indian
medicines, and how she as a health care professional reconciles them (40-42). She also mentions
briefly what she sees is a connection between the Green Corn Dance and her work in health.
Buster's memories of the Green Corn Dance as a child center around one episode where her
mother became drunk; the shaped Buster's own participation in the ceremony for years, through
attending it for the party-atmosphere and then avoidance of it. Over the years her attitudes
toward the ceremony have changed from viewing it as a party to appreciating its import as a
ceremony in which her cultural heritage and traditions are taught (46-52).
Buster discusses her experiences at boarding school and in education more generally. She
recognizes that her experiences are different than those in her parents' generation and also
different than those of her children's generation. She examines these transformations, including
the push for her generation to attain education and 'be white' at the expense of learning cultural
practices, the move to and between public schools, and some of the practices at reservation (and
public) schools related to teaching Seminole culture and Indian languages (e.g., 8-15, 20-23, 25-
26, 33). Buster also discusses her concern about the role of dividends in education, both making
education more accessible and creating a difficult atmosphere for it to succeed (e.g., 22-25).
(There is a parallel in her discussion of economic development and health care.)
Her desire to attend boarding school was tied to the transformation of housing, when her mother
decided to leave the matrilineally-related extended family camp and enter a CBS with her
children. Buster resented this, and she explains how she saw this as an assault on the family as
she knew it. She discusses the form of the family structure when she was growing up and how it
changed with this shift in housing (e.g., 26-29, 32-33).
Near the end of the interview Buster gives her assessment of the economic changes in the tribe
over the last generation, and she explains why she sees them as simultaneously a blessing and a
curse (52-53, 58-60).
H: I am talking today with Sadie Cypress. This is April 23, 1999, and we are
meeting in her workshop, which is next to her home. She is selling some of this
beautiful Seminole patchwork clothing. Sadie, to what clan do you belong?
C: Bird Clan.
H: When and where were you born?
C: I was born in St. Lucie County, west of Fort Pierce.
H: When was that?
C: 1932. October 16.
H: What is your Muskogee or Miccosukee name? Do you have one?
C: It is Muskogee. We call it Creek here. They call it Muskogee. Apashi.
H: If you were to spell that, how would you spell it?
C: I do not know.
H: Who named you that name, and why did they choose it?
C: My great-grandmother, Lucy Tiger, named me.
H: What does the name mean?
C: Roasting corn.
H: Do you know why she chose that name?
C: No, I do not. Some people ask me that, though.
H: How do you feel about having both an English name and a Creek name?
C: I don't know. I just never thought about it. I was never called by my English
name growing up, but later, in the years when I went to school, then people
called me by my English name and then I got used to being called by that. Very
suddenly, they used our English name.
H: So now, do you use your English name most?
H: In what context would you use your Indian name? In what situations would you
use your Creek name?
C: I do not really know. Maybe just to tell people what my name is, I guess. That is
probably the only time that people mention it. Older people, when they talk about
the other women, they are accustomed to using their Indian names. If
somebody, some elderly lady, was talking about me to you, then she would use
my Indian name. You see, the English name is just your given name. It is really
not that strong. It is not like a custom. That is why a lot of older people do not
like to use [an] English name when they are referring to you, talking to somebody
about you. But then, a lot of times they say you are not supposed to call an
elderly person by their Indian name if you are younger than that person.
H: What are you supposed to call them?
C: If they have any children, [they] say Mary's mother, or Sia's mother, or whatever
their Indian names are, so they know them by the mother of the child. They were
really strict about calling somebody by their name if they are an older person. If
they are older than you, then you are supposed to call them by one of their
babies' names, the mother of her children. They always refer [to the] older child
of that family. They call them by his name in saying, Bobby's mother, or Sally's
mother, or whoever is older out of that family. That would probably be the only
time that people would ever use my name.
H: Do the young people today still keep that tradition?
C: No, I do not think so. Most of them probably do not.
H: Have you always lived on the reservation?
C: Not here. I grew up in the Hollywood area. I moved out here in 1973.
H: How old were you when you moved out here then?
C: Probably about forty-five.
H: So you had already been through school. What kind of schools did you attend?
C: I went to a school in Cherokee, North Carolina, and I went as far as tenth grade.
I never did finish school. I had younger sisters and brothers who were at home.
I was the oldest, and my mom came down with bleeding ulcers. My father
thought that it was best for me to stay home and take care of the kids. He did not
think that she was going to ever get any better, but she got better. That is why I
had to quit school at tenth grade. I stayed home and took care of the babies.
H: What is your primary occupation?
C: I used to work for the tribe, off and on, but my main source of income was my
sewing. That is what I did. That is what I have done. That is what my mom did,
and my grandma did. They traded with tourists. That is how I learned how to do
most of the stuff that I know now, that I do today. I grew up doing all of that for
my grandma and my mom. My arts and crafts are my main sources of income.
That is what I have today.
H: Tell me about all the types of arts and crafts that you make.
C: I make dolls, and jackets, skirts, and blouses. I know how to make baskets, but I
do not like to make them so I never got into it. I know how to make them and if I
have to, I do. But it is one of the things that I was never into. I like doing dolls,
and patchwork, and sewing. It takes more of your time to do the dolls than the
baskets, but I never got into doing that as one of my trades. I do know how to
make them, but I am just not into it. If I really have to, I do it, though. I make
them. I make some baskets.
H: What was your father's occupation and education?
C: He used to hunt game for a living when we were growing up, selling hides,
alligator hides and otter hides. But he became a Baptist minister, so he quit
doing that. He did that until he died in 1972.
H: How about your mother? What was her occupation?
C: She was just a mother and a housewife. That is all I know. I have never known
her to do anything else, except sewing, making dolls, and gardening.
H: Did either of them go to school?
C: No. My father did. He went to school. When he became a Christian, he went to
the Bible Institute in Lakeland, Florida, and he graduated from there. He was a
minister until he died.
H: Do you go to church?
C: Yes. First Baptist.
H: Since the Baptist ministers came and converted Seminole Indians, have you
seen a change in Seminole values?
C: I do not know, because I was not old enough to know what was before they
came. They came, and they were here for a period of time. They had a church,
and people were going to church and everything when I started remembering it.
So, I really do not know what kind of changes it has made. It probably made a lot
of changes. When we were kids at my grandma's house, [and] it was Sunday,
she said, the lady is going to come and teach you all Sunday school, so eat
breakfast and get cleaned up and get ready for her to come. There used to be a
white lady who came to the village. I think what we really expected was food
because she used to bring food: bananas, and oranges, and grapes, and
cookies, and everything. She used to bring that when she would come out. I
really did not have any idea of what was going on at that time because I was too
young to know what was going on. My grandma, whenever we did not listen,
whenever we did what we were not supposed to do, in times like that she used to
tell us, that white lady taught you not to be like that, didn't she? It is not good for
you to lie or to not listen. It seemed to me like she was really educated in a
Christian way because I used to hear her talk to us like that. The missionaries
from Oklahoma had already been there, and she had already known what
Christianity was all about. I did not know that at the time, but later on I found that
they had been there and that the church was already there. Betty Mae's [Betty
Mae Jumper] family would go to church every Sunday. We used to go over there
and listen to them sing. We did not go in the church, but we used to listen to
them sing, standing outside looking in. Later on, we finally realized what was
going on. So, I guess it had a real impact on a lot of us kids. I guess people
prayed a lot back then because I used to listen to Betty Mae's uncle or
grandfather or somebody. Sometimes, we would be playing around and would
go near the church house, and we could hear somebody talking and talking. He
would be sitting there, talking and talking. I never realized what he was doing.
Now that I am older, I realize that he was praying all of the time. It might have
had a lot of impact on us young kids because I know all of us in that village
growing up, well, just like I tell these young kids, I said, we had neighbors; we
had people who were bad, and we saw them doing a whole bunch of stuff that
we were not allowed to do. But I tell my grandkids and some young people who I
talk to, I say, we did not have cocaine, and we did not have marijuana, we did not
have all that stuff back then. But there was something around. They sniffed gas,
they sniffed paint, and they sniffed a lot of other stuff that I knew they were doing.
I know they were stealing from the stores, too. I was right among them, playing
with them and everything. I say, I must have been the stupidest person in the
world or the smartest person because I never did think that I had to do it because
they were doing it. I saw them doing it, sniffing glue, sniffing gas. I was right
there. I was playing right along with them, but I never thought that I had to do it,
because I knew my grandma would not approve of it and my dad and my mom
would say it is not right. And they were hiding, so I knew it had to be something
wrong because they were hiding out in the woods and doing it.
H: Tell me what your mother and father's names were.
C: Sam Tommie and Mildred Tommie.
H: And what about your grandmother?
C: Annie Tommie [mother of Sam].
H: Do you remember Betty Mae's uncle's name, who you used to sit and listen to?
C: No. I think it was her uncle. On Sundays they would all come to church, go in
the church and sing and pray. We used to watch them from the outside. They
probably had invited other families to come and go to church with them, but I
guess nobody did because those were the only people that I used to see. [Tape
interrupted.] So, it must have had a lot of influence on us because I had cousins
and some other kids who were related to my distant cousins. All of us grew up in
that camp in Hollywood, with my Grandma Annie. In certain times of the year, it
might have been some holidays or something, the people would come. They
would eat and drink, and we used to watch them. Then, they had a whole lot of
drinks left over, and they had a whole bunch of drinks sitting around the table
H: Whiskey drinks?
C: Yes, or wine, or beer, or whatever they were drinking. But, neither one of us, it
never crossed our mind that we had to take that drink because we knew it was a
H: When you are saying neither one of us, who else do you mean?
C: My cousins in that village, and the boys, I do not think either one of them drank
after they got older. I know one of them went into the service and came back.
When he came back, that is the only time that I had ever known him to drink.
Right about that time, then the Christianity, the later missionary, came.
H: About what year was that?
C: I think it was right around 1945. Then we went into Christianity. That was our life
then. So, that had a big part in it, that we never thought that we had to do
drinking or partying or anything like that. But after they got older and went their
own way, they did.
H: Some people started getting into Christianity, like you were saying your family
did, and other people did not. Did that affect how people got along in the
C: No, I do not think so.
H: What percentage of tribal members are Christians, would you say?
C: Gosh, I do not know. I know there are not a whole lot now.
H: Are the ministers all Seminole people?
C: Yes, most of them. We have Howard Micco here and Wonder Johns in Brighton
and Paul Buster at Hollywood, I think. The only one that is white, I do not know if
he is a minister or not, but he comes out to the Miccosukee church and teaches
Sunday school. He is a white man, from Miami. I do not think he is a preacher. I
think he just comes out. There are not that many people going to church over
there. That is why.
H: The Miccosukees?
C: Yes. [To] what few people who come, I think he just teaches Sunday school.
H: What roles do women play in the Christian church? Since all of the ministers are
men, what kinds of roles do the women play?
C: Probably just Sunday school teachers or help with church activities.
H: Do you know any medicine men or women who still practice medicine?
C: Not as much around here, but I know some from Miccosukee.
H: Is it possible for people to be medicine men and women and still be Christians?
Do you know any that are?
C: Yes. Because Grandma Susie over here, she makes medicines. She has been
Christian for as long as I remember.
H: Is that Susie Jim Billie?
C: Yes, and her brothers. All of her brothers were Christians, and they all made
medicine. Buffalo Jim, and I cannot think of the other one's name. But anyway,
she has three brothers. They were all medicine carriers. They made medicine,
and they went to church. Then we had Charlie Cypress [deceased], and his wife,
who was Ingraham Billie's sister, also made medicines. All of those people are
Christians, and they made medicine until the day they died. Then Ingraham
Billie, Frank and Josie Billie's father, he was a Christian. He went to church, and
he made medicine until he passed away. Josie Billie also prepared medicines,
not Frank. But a lot of them, I do not know where they came from, what their
beliefs are, but a lot of them do not believe in medicine. Some of the Christians
that we have among the Seminoles do not believe in Indian medicine. They do
not use it. They do not like to use it.
H: How about you? Do you still use it?
C: Yes, I do. My father was a minister. He believed in Indian medicine. He said,
Indian medicine for your physical body, God made that Indian medicine for you to
use it while you are here on this Earth for your physical body. Your physical
body is a temple of God, but the Bible tells you to believe in God spiritually. But
your physical body is something. When you are hurting, God made Indian
medicine, any kind of medicine, for you to use it while you are here, alive in this
world. That is what my father taught.
H: So, it does not matter if it is white medicine, white doctors, or native medicine?
You can use both?
C: Yes. That is what my father used to say, and it says so in the Bible. It is in
Malachi. It is in the Book of Malachi. It says so in the Bible. Some of these
people do not believe in Indian medicine. They do not think it is right, and they
do not know who they are talking to when they use medicine, and all that stuff. I
say, when your head hurts, you go buy aspirin; when you have a pain, you go to
the doctor. It is the same thing. God gave knowledge to the doctors to learn
what they know. God gave these medicine men knowledge to learn what they
know today, for your physical body. I say, you believe in the Bible, you believe in
God, and you believe in everything that you say you believe in. When you are
disbelieving medicine, you are rejecting him right there. He gave you Indian
medicine to use when you need it, so that goes to show that you do not really
believe in God. There is one lady and every time we get together, we discuss
scriptures and the Bible. We sit there and just fight and fight and fight all of the
time. She is stubborn. I am stubborn too, but I always think I am right.
H: [Laughs.] And she probably thinks she is right?
C: Yes. She thinks she is right. If there is anything to know about the Bible, in
reading a Bible and know about the Bible, I think I am an expert on that one
because I had a good teacher. That was my father.
H: Does the tribe still have an annual Green Corn Dance?
H: Have you ever attended one?
C: When I was growing up, I never did. When I got older I did, but I do not
participate in it. But I know all about it, what it is all about and everything, I just
never have participated in it.
H: What is the purpose of the Green Corn Dance?
C: Just to give thanks for the harvest and for the things that you have been blessed
with through the year. It is just like having a celebration to show the Spirit, they
call it, that you are remembering him for giving you all that he has given you over
the year. They have it every year, and they use medicine to refresh their bodies.
H: I was told that one of the things they do is scratching. Have you ever been
C: No. It is [for] men. Just for men.
H: Why do they do that?
C: To freshen their blood, doing away with the old blood, getting new blood.
H: What about fasting? Did you ever fast when you used to go to those?
C: No. Women do not normally fast. The men [do]. You can if you want to, the
H: What about using sweat lodges? Do women do that?
C: Not in the Seminole tribe. They do not use sweat lodges. It is the western
Indians that do that.
H: The annual fair that they have in Hollywood, the pow-wow, do you think that it
serves to preserve Seminole culture or change Seminole culture?
C: I think it changes it.
H: How so?
C: Well, when they first started out doing it, they had ways of showing ... like what
you are talking about, like the stick ball game and dances. All the young people
would be there learning and all of that. They have done away with all of that.
They do not have any of that stuff. There is just the western dances, and it is like
a flea market to me now. None of those things are there. They are gone. They
used to sing in their own native language and dance and do a ceremony. A lot of
them do not get to go, never had gone to a Corn Dance. The history like that, a
lot of kids have never seen, have never been taught. So, when they see it, it
gives them the idea of what the Corn Dance is all about. But now, they have
done away with all of that. It is just like, you know, money. That is all it is.
H: When do you think that changed?
C: Probably about the last ten years.
H: The dolls and the clothing that you make here are so beautiful. Why do you think
it has not been mass-produced? Everything is done so individually. Is there a
reason that it is not produced in mass for the tourist industry?
C: I think one of the reasons is that it is too complicated. I have done business with
a lot of people. I had a man that came from Europe. He used to buy my stuff,
and I used to sew for him and mail it to him. He came back one day--he was
here one year; he came about every other year--he was asking me that question,
and I said, I do not think it can be done. Maybe it can. I do not know. He said,
well, he was going to take most of this patchwork home and he was going to
mass-produce them on a machine. I said, good luck. I said, in the past
hundreds of years, if it can be done, don't you think that somebody would have
done it by now. The Japanese would have been the first people to do it. I said,
they have not done it, so good luck. I have not heard from him since.
H: That is funny. I see that you wear traditional Seminole clothing. Is that what you
C: Yes, everyday. I wear it everyday.
H: When you grew up in Hollywood, you mentioned that you had camps. The
housing that you lived in, were those chickees?
H: How has the housing changed in the last thirty years?
C: It has changed a lot.
H: For one thing, we are sitting in this nice air-conditioned workshop of yours.
H: Was this kind of thing existing when you came here in 1973?
C: No. The houses that were built here did not have air conditioners, and they just
remodeled some of those houses and put air conditioners in them.
H: When you came in 1973, what was the housing like?
C: We had houses just like those there, but there were not that many.
H: So, did most people still live in chickees?
C: Yes. They were still living in chickees. I lived in a chickee when I moved out
here, and then I moved into that house in 1984. I like it better, living outside.
H: You do? Why is that?
C: I do not have roaches. I do not have dirt, and everything is clean. I think the
majority of the sickness that we have among our Indians, they are not used to
cleaning up, cleaning the house and cleaning everything, cleaning here and
cleaning there. I think that is the majority of their being sick, the elderlies
especially, because they are not used to that kind of life. They just took
everything away from them. I grew up in a village. Everywhere I went, that is
where I lived. Everything that we did, the trash, we burned it. The tables that we
ate on, we put everything where everything was clean and washed and put away.
Anything that we had, they were always clean. In the cooking chickee, the
smoke is there all the time, so we do not have any insects around the food. No
H: So you kept the fires burning all of the time?
C: Yes. The fire burned twenty-four hours a day in the village. The fire was never
out. They had a big table where we kept our cooking utensils and plates and
everything else. It was all washed and turned upside down, and they were all
H: Was there one fire for the whole village?
C: Yes, for the whole village. Everybody cooked on it and then ate at the same
H: How many people were there?
C: You could have six families [women and their children] in a camp. I grew up with
that many families in a camp, at my grandma's house [Annie Tommie].
H: Were there a lot of children in each family?
C: Yes, a lot of children, a lot of kids running around.
H: Did you ever learn how to build a chickee?
C: Yes. That is what I did for most of the time that I moved out here, building
chickees around for white people.
H: For white people?
C: Yes. That was part of my business when I came out here, cutting poles.
H: And you actually did the cutting of the poles yourself?
C: Yes. We would cut it and peel it. I have done everything and anything that I can
think of. I used to go hunt with my father, killing alligators and chasing the otters,
skinning the alligators, hunting frogs. I cut fence posts and sold them for fifteen
cents a pole, helping my father. Then, when he became a minister, we would
travel. He used to get invitations to go preach up in states like Georgia,
Tennessee, and North Carolina. We used to drive up there, stay two or three
days, and come home. You see, I was the oldest. Well, my brother was the
oldest, but he was raised by my grandmother [Lucy]. I was the oldest who lived
with my mom and my dad.
H: How many brothers and sisters did you have?
C: There were nine girls. There were fourteen of us, but two of them died when
they were infants. One of them died when he was about two and a half years
old; the other one died when he was seventeen.
H: You were talking about the health of some of these people around here,
especially the elderly. What kinds of illnesses do you find that are most prevalent
among the Seminole people?
C: Diabetes, hypertension, high blood pressure.
H: Do you see any connection with the change in the way the people eat and live
now with those illnesses?
C: Yes. Eating and sitting in the air conditioning all day long. Not exercising.
Before, my grandmother on my mother's side, she lived to be over 100 years old.
She was walking and gardening and doing everything else. Me and my sisters
were talking about her about two or three months ago. I said, Grandma Lucy
would probably be walking around here if she did not come down with pneumonia
that year. You see, that is how healthy they were. See, Susie is over 100 years
old, because she grew up before the air conditioning and all of the junk that we
eat. So, she is still here with us.
H: They did not have those problems with diabetes?
C: No diabetes. I never heard of diabetes until .... The first diabetic who I came
across and noticed was in 1955. There was a lady who got sick. She passed
out in front of the gas station. She had bought a bottle of Coke out of the
machine, and she drank it. She was so thirsty. She just guzzled it down and
stood there for a while and passed out. For what reason I was there, I do not
know, but people were saying they needed somebody to interpret for these
people over here at the gas station. We went over there, and it was her. They
said she went into a diabetic coma or something, and they put her in the hospital.
They said that her blood sugar was so high. I started wondering what it was or
why and all of that, so I started asking the doctor. He told me what causes it and
everything. She died not too long after that because she would not stick to her
diet. That is when I became aware of diabetes. I mean, I never had known it. I
guess people did die from that, but we never really knew what killed them. After I
thought about it, maybe that is what happened. So, that is one of the reasons, I
think, that we have so much diabetes, the food they eat. You see, they did their
own gardening, and they did their own hunting. They did not eat that meat and
stuff they buy from the grocery store. I used to see old men and old women
when I was growing up, and I do not ever remember them being sick all the time.
If nothing else, they were doing something all the time. Everybody had
something to do all the time. Everybody was working. I remember--I guess she
was, like, a cousin to my great-grandma Lucy, my grandma on my mom's side,
my great-grandma ...
H: What was her last name?
C: Lucy Tiger. She was old, and I remember, I just barely remember, but she used
to go out in these lakes and she would take a burlap bag with her. She used to
wade around in the water. I used to watch her do that. I had no idea what she
was doing. She was hunting for turtles. She would come home with about three,
four, or five of them in that burlap bag. [End of Side 1]
H: ... food and changes in the living situations.
C: Yes. I think that is what did it, that is what it is. I am lucky. I mean, I consider
myself lucky because I do not have arthritis. I am not a diabetic. I do not have
high blood pressure. If it were not for my heart, I think I would be 100 percent.
H: So you have heart problems?
C: Yes. But I worked all of my life raising my four kids; my boy was only ten years
old when my husband left. I did not have any problem working because I had
worked all of my life. I did not mind doing what I did, and I would probably do it
all over again if I had to.
H: You are still working hard today making your clothing, and you have a store.
When did you start having your grocery store?
C: When I moved out here. There was an elderly couple that had a little snack
place up there, and they were not able to keep it up so they finally just closed it
down. I rented that little spot from them, and that is how I started out here. Then
I leased this property right here, and then I moved over here and built my own.
This is the second one that I have built. The other one was a thatched roof
chickee, which was bigger than this one. We have so much wind and rain and
everything, so we decided to put up a wooden one, because it is always blowing
the top off and you have to re-thatch it all of the time.
H: And that is a problem when you have food in there.
H: You mentioned that when you were growing up, you and your mom used to make
clothing and dolls for the tourists. Have you seen a big change in tourism to
Seminole sites here in Florida?
C: Not really. It is about the same, but our problem is that nobody hardly makes
stuff anymore now, and the kids are not learning. Before too long, I do not think
we will have baskets and dolls. But, a few of the younger ones are learning now
how to make baskets and dolls. I do not know if they will keep it up. I have a
sister. She used to sew. She did patchwork and made clothing and stuff like
that. She got into working, and she just let it go. She never bothered to make
any stuff ever again. As long as about twenty years, that I know, she did not
sew. She retired from her job. Then, when she was not working, she stayed at
home, she picked it up and started making stuff, making patchwork, and people
would say, I did not know she sewed. I said, she used to sew a lot but since she
was working, she never bothered to.
H: It is a lot of work. I can see that. It is beautiful. The intricate patterns. It is just
C: You see, all the patchwork is not sewed the same way. As long as I have been
sewing, and I make patchwork after patchwork, but some designs, I cannot
remember how to put the pieces together, so I have to have one [a sample]. So,
it is not something that you can just sit down and do. If you did, it is taking
forever and ever and ever to finish it because you keep sewing the same thing
over and over again, it seems like.
H: So you keep a sample?
C: Yes, a sample. Some designs I can do without looking at it, but some of them I
cannot just sit down and make one, so I have to have a pattern to go by.
H: Do you see making these garments and things for the tourist industry as a way to
preserve Seminole culture?
C: No. I think the way that we could preserve the Seminole culture is to teach our
children how to do it, to learn how to do the patchwork and do the sewing and the
baskets and so on. I have taught all of my girls to learn how to sew. She knows
how to sew. She knows how to bead work. She can sew. She can do a lot of
that. But she does work, so she just seems like she does not have the time to do
H: What is your daughter's name?
C: Carolyn Billie. I have taught both the boys and girls, when they were growing up,
because that was all I did. They watched me doing it, sewing and beading and
all of that. That was my son who was just in here. He knows how to do bead
work. He knows how to bead, and he knows how to sew. He knows how to do
all of that, but he just does not. One time, it was in summertime, he sat down
and made some bracelets. He said, mom, I did not think I remembered how to
do that, but I did. I made some bracelets, he said. I said, you cannot ever forget
what you learned. You might get out of practice, but you know you can always
get back into it. Then, my granddaughter wanted to learn how to sew. She
wanted to learn how to do dolls, and she wanted to learn how to make baskets.
She knows how to do that now, but she just will not get down to doing it.
Eventually, I think those [skills] will come back up when they get a little bit older
because they know how.
H: Speaking of passing things down, can you tell me anything about Seminole
history that was passed down to you from your parents and grandparents?
C: My grandmother never said anything about what happened, but she used to talk
about what the future was like. She used to say a whole bunch of stuff about
what it is going to be like in so many years down the road. She said, you will see
the things happening, but I will never see it because I am old.
H: They never talked about the Seminole wars or the famous figures, like Osceola?
C: No, but I used to hear people talk amongst themselves about how bad the war
was and what they had to go through. They heard it from somebody, and I used
to hear the older people discussing it. I was never told directly, but I used to hear
H: What kinds of things did they talk about?
C: They talked about how they tried to survive, how they hid, what they did to hide,
and the food that they did not have. They ate off of the roots. They would take
the root of a tree and eat it because they were starving.
H: What kind of places did they hide in?
C: In the woods and the swamp. Another thing that I vaguely remember is that they
[the soldiers] never go backwards. They always go forward. So, they [the
Indians, would] go backwards. That is how they [the soldiers] missed them.
H: So, the Seminole tradition focuses on the future rather than the past.
C: Yes. I used to hear some old people sitting around and talking. When I used to
hear little things like that, it did not mean anything to me at the time because I did
not even think to realize it. But as I got older and remembered back to what I
heard, then I knew what they were saying. I missed a lot of stuff because I did
not really understand what they were talking about. My grandmother, I never
really heard her talk about the war, but I used to hear some other elderly people
in the village talk among each other, telling each other what they heard or what
they learned from their older people who went through the war. Another thing
that I used to hear [was] that they always had to erase their footprints. They
would take a brush and erased their footprints as they were hiding out because
they knew, some of them, that is how they tracked them down. I used to listen to
them talk about things like that, but I did not really know what they were talking
about. But then, as I got older ...
H: There have been a lot of major economic changes in the tribe over the last thirty
years, such as with agriculture, livestock, and in education. How have these
changes affected your life?
C: It did not really affect me too much in my life. The cattle program, about twenty
years back, there was good money in it, but now they are not making any money
at all. I wish somebody would educate the cattle owners to just sell out and go
into something else that will make money for them.
H: Was any of your family in the cattle business?
C: My father had cattle, but he sold out. You see, he lived in Brighton, but he was
sick all of the time. The doctors told him that the dampness and the wet was not
good for him, so they thought he would be better off if he moved to higher
ground. He moved to Hollywood. When he did that, he sold all of his cattle.
That is one of the things that I would like to see done, to educate these cattle
owners that they are just wasting time and the land.
H: What do you think they could use the land for, better than for the cattle?
C: For something that would make money for the tribe.
H: Like something for tourists?
C: No. Like, maybe, sugar cane or something that will make money for the tribe.
You see, the individual cattle owners are taking up the space, and they are not
making any money. When they cannot afford to take care of their cows, the
Tribe has to put money up for it. So, they are losing money for the Tribe. It was
doing that as much as twenty years ago. Now, they are not making any money.
The market is so cheap. Back about twenty years, they were like a $1.00, $1.50,
$1.75 a pound, and the cattle people were making money back then. Now, they
do not even come over here at all. So, that is one thing that I would like to see
change, where the tribe can put something on the property that the cattle are in.
You see, we have our tribal cattle program, too.
H: What is that all about?
C: For the whole tribe. The Seminole Tribe has a cattle program. The Tribe owns
H: Besides the individual owners? And that is not making any money either?
C: No. Maybe they come a little bit ahead, but I think they could put something else
in place of those cows to make money. I know we are not blind. All these cattle
owners who used to be surrounding us, they all sold out. They are into citrus.
They are into sugar cane. There are hardly any cattle owners out here now.
H: These are non-Indian people?
C: Non-Indian. So, we can see why they are doing it, but the tribe does not see it,
or the individuals do not see it. I would like to see that change. I have been
saying that for the past ten years, though. I do not know. They are bound to
know that they are not making any money. It is just the idea of owning cattle, I
guess. I do not know what it is.
H: We were talking about preserving the culture, and the beautiful Ahfachkee
Museum that has been built. Have you visited there?
H: Why not?
C: I do not know. I just have not been over there. I think about it all the time, but I
have not been.
H: Since you have not really seen what is in there, I guess it is hard for you to judge
whether that is a good thing for preserving the culture. One last question: the
overall status of Seminole women, has it changed in the last thirty years because
of these economic developments?
H: In what way?
C: Everybody works. Just like I was telling my son when we were driving back [at
the time of] that shooting.
H: The shooting at the school in Colorado? [Columbine High School shootings,
Littleton, Colorado, 20 April 1999.]
C: Yes. There was this psychologist talking on the TV, and I said, I have said that
over the years. I said, I probably could say that better than she did on TV.
People do not have time for their kids. They do not sit down to talk with their
kids. I know I used to sense something was wrong in one of my kids when
something was bothering them. I told them, talk to me. If I do not know, I cannot
help you, if something is bothering you. I said, nothing can be that bad. If you
are going through a problem, I said, a lot of other people have lived through that
same thing too because we live in the same world, and people do, just about,
everything the same. I said, if you have done something wrong, if something is
wrong with you, there has got to be something that you can do to correct it. If
you do not tell me, I cannot help you. I said, do not look at me as your mother.
Look at me as your friend, and talk to me. I said, if you do not want to talk to me,
go talk to your teachers; go talk to somebody before it blows up in you.
Something is wrong, and something has got to be bad because you are not
yourself. And finally, I used to get it out of them. I said, it is not as bad as you
think it is after you talk to somebody about it. Somebody has got a bigger
problem than you have. I swear to God, people did not even know they were
making bombs in the basement [in Littleton, Colorado]. I said, how can you not
know, living in the same house?
H: That is surprising. But, like you said, there are so many parents that both
parents are working, and they do not have time to sit down and talk. It is quite a
C: That is what I tell my daughter all of the time. They are scared to death because
you holler at them all the time. They say you are going to start hollering every
time they say something to you. They do not want to talk to you. I said, you
have to change your attitude. I said, they are not babies; they are not kids. They
are grown up. You have to treat them according to their age.
H: And what is your daughter's name?
H: She lives here in Big Cypress?
C: No. She lives in Okeechobee, in town. She works out of Hollywood, though.
Her office is in Hollywood. She said, I know something is wrong with Charlie, but
he will not talk to me. I said, you know why? Because you are going to start
saying things like, you know better, or you know you are not supposed to, or all
that stuff. Before hand, it is right to tell them, you should not do that. If it has
already happened, you try to understand what happened. He feels bad enough
as it is. You are coming down on him. I said, you have to sit down and say, it
happens all the time; do not feel bad. If you have done something wrong, you
have to correct it and if something bothers you that bad, you have to talk it out.
Let it out. After the problem has already been done, it is no use to say, I told you
so, or you should not have done this. It already happened. You have to sit down
and talk with him, make him realize that it is not as bad as he thinks it is. He
feels bad enough as it is, and you start hollering around. I said, they are not
going to talk; I would not talk to you either. She just does not have any patience
at all. You get mad at her about talking to her boys all the time. Then they said,
grandma, I am not going to tell mama, but I want to tell you something. Like the
last time he was here he said, grandma, I was not going to tell you, but I feel bad
not telling you. We caught an alligator. We are going to take it home. I said,
son, I am not going to tell you not to take it home, but if you get caught with that
alligator in your car, you are going to get into serious trouble. I said, think about
it. You either leave the alligator here and go home, or you take it home with you.
When you get in trouble, do not call me. [Both laugh.] I said, it is better that I
know. When that phone rings, I am not going to answer it at two o'clock in the
morning. They took it home. One of the boys got it in his bathtub or in the tub
somewhere in Okeechobee, and that boy, his father is a policeman in
H: Oh my goodness! He could get arrested by his own father.
C: He probably has it at his house. That is what I mean. Or he told him to let it go
H: And it is illegal to keep alligators, right?
C: Illegal to keep it. You have to notify the game warden why you have it there. He
must have told him to let it go. I never did ask him to find out what they did with
H: Well, Sadie, I really appreciate all the time you have taken. Is there anything
else you would like to say that I have not asked you about which you think would
be important to include? I would be happy to hear it.
C: Nothing that I can think of, except education is another thing. Up to about fifteen
or sixteen years old, we are losing them bad.
H: Do you mean they are dropping out of school?
C: Yes. That is another thing we need to ...
H: Since you do not have young children, I did not ask you about the Ahfachkee
school. Do you know much about that school?
C: Yes, my grandboys, the boys I am talking about. You see, I raised those boys.
They went to school here, at Ahfachkee.
H: What do you think about that school? Do you think that it is going to help to instill
the culture in the young children?
C: Yes. They are being taught. When my boys were going to school there, they
learned a lot. They used to come home and question me about what they heard.
They kept it up pretty good. They did not have one [a teacher of Seminole
culture] for a while, for about a year, I think. I think they got somebody, now.
Yes, I think it is good that they have that school here, where they can have that
class. My grandboys who were here, who just left, they learned a lot. They had
one in the beginning of the year, and she came into the store that Monday and
said, your grandson learns a lot about the culture. I said, I guess. She said,
every time I say something, he is always correcting me. He is telling me that I
am not telling it right. Grandma tells me like this. He told me when he came
home, he said, grandma, our culture teacher was saying something and it was
not right. I told her, that is not right because grandma tells me like this. She
said, what is your clan? He said, my clan is Bird, and she said, that is why. I am
a Panther clan. That is why I teach differently. He said, is that true? I said, no, it
does not matter what clan you are from. I said, what she tells you, it comes right
down to the same thing. It does not matter what clan you are. The teaching of it
came from the same culture. She was trying to tell me that because she is a
different clan, she teaches differently. Not too long after that she came in, and
she asked me about him and said, your grandson is always sitting there
correcting every time I try to teach. I said, he told me that. He told me what he
did and what he said and what you said, and he wanted to know if it was true.
She said, I did not want to say that I did not know in front of all of those people,
so that was the first thing that came to my mind; that is what I told him. But he
knew better, I guess, she said. He did, because he came home and said,
different clans have different teachings? And I told him no.
H: So, trying to avoid looking foolish by not knowing the answer, she actually looked
more foolish because she said something that was wrong. [Both laugh.] And
your grandson knew it and told her about it.
C: I know. That is what she said. She did not want to say, oh, I did not know that,
in front of the class. So, she made a fool of herself the second time. I know he
has questions a lot, and they get mad at him all the time. But that is how they
learn. People like that are going to be smart.
H: How old is he?
C: He is eleven years old.
H: And he lives here with you?
C: No. He lives with his father. They live down the road.
H: And what are their names?
C: Matthew and Marvin Billie. You see, they are half white. Their mom is white.
They have such a hard time.
C: Well, when they are around the other kids, when they try to get themselves
involved with them and say things, they say, how would you know? You are not
an Indian. Sometimes I feel sorry for him, but I tell him, that is not what the world
is all about, who you are or what color you are or where you came from or
anything. I said, God made one person; you believe that, and nothing else
matters. I said, when you start feeling like that towards other people, you would
not want to be who you are because you are not going to feel good about
yourself. Those people who talk like that, something is wrong with them. They
are the problem. They are not worth your time. Do not worry about it. Let them
be. They will find themselves one day. If they do, they will. If they do not, that is
their problem. I said, you do not do that; you do not talk like that.
H: So, even though their father is Indian and they live on the reservation, the
children still do not consider them Indians?
H: Is that because their mother is not Indian, so they do not have a clan?
C: They do not have a clan. That has a lot to do with it. But they consider
themselves as Bird clan.
H: Because of grandma.
C: And the father. Well, we are going to be Bird because dad is Bird, so they are
Bird. They think of themselves as Bird clan. The tribe was talking about
changing that, [for children whose mothers are non-Indian] to be the father's clan,
but they never got around to doing that. I do not know when it was, but they had
a lot of discussion about it, and they never went any further. So, I guess they
would not change it.
H: That is something that has been tradition forever, right? The child gets the
C: Yes. It is hard, but we have more, getting more and more now. We have very
few full-blooded Indians anyway, so they do not have such a big problem like
they used to. All the ones who used to be talking and all of that stuff, they quit
school. They are not in school anymore.
H: You mean the full-bloods who were talking about other people?
C: Talking about, you are not Indian; how would you know? You are not Indian; why
should you be here? All this and all that. I kind of feel sorry for them at times.
H: For your grandsons?
C: Yes. For my grandkids. You see, my other two are full-blooded. The mother
and the father are Seminole. But these three, two boys and one girl .... The girl
can take care of herself, she is hard-headed. They are okay now. Nobody
bothers them anymore like when they first came here. They have been here
about five years, living here on this reservation. They were having such a hard
time, but now that they are used being around, they are not being picked on as
H: Is there anything else you would like to tell me about?
H: You are all talked out now?
C: Yes. I cannot think of anything.
H: Okay. Well, thank you again, very much.